Word has leaked out that tomorrow, April 1, 2004, it will be announced that Winona is in the final four to be the pilot site for a new Eurasian concept discount store that purports to be able to offer merchandise at 10% to 25% below even Wal-Mart's prices.
This cannot be a good thing for Winona, and we are hoping that local governmental bodies will say "Thanks, but no thanks" to this proposal. We simply do not need this global retail giant here in our little river town. Not only will the store put nearly everyone else out of business, it also offers absolutely no local jobs.
The concept is the brainchild of a German conglomerate, a manufacturer of robotics, that developed the discount store as a way to keep U.S.-owned Wal-Mart out of the global market. It is immensely popular in Europe and Asia for a number of reasons, not only because the prices are so low.
Everything in the store is outsourced to Third World countries. Not only is all the merchandise manufactured in countries where wages are pennies a day, but they go several steps further.
First, the stores have no employees. Everything is accomplished using robots controlled from places like India and Afghanistan. Because there are no employees locally, there are of course no unions.
Customers must have a membership in the store, somewhat like the Sam's Club concept, except that the membership card is also a debit/credit/key card. There are no credit checks, although there is an application that must be filled out and approved by the company, a process that takes no more than several minutes and is done over interactive television/computers. Cards are imprinted with the customer's fingerprint, so no one else can use them.
The customer simply uses the card to gain access to the store and to check out of the store. No cash exchanges hand; merchandise is scanned and charged to the card as the customer leaves the store. Shoplifting is nonexistent, as the scanners can detect even merchandise hidden on a person, and simply adds it to the bill. Bags are automatically supplied and robots bag the merchandise. Large merchandise is delivered to a pickup dock and automatically loaded into the customer's vehicle.
Merchandise is delivered by truck via Mexico, and the driver needs only to back the trailer up to a loading door and leave it to be unloaded by robots, which also stock the shelves. The driver hooks up to another trailer, which has been filled with any waste that has been automatically vacuumed from the store, and takes it back to Mexico, where it is processed using a system developed in Singapore, one of the cleanest places on earth.
All in-store advertising is done on computer and television screens, so no more hand-lettered signs need to be hung, and prices change at a moment's notice as the store is notified of sudden changes in pricing at a competitor's store.
Maintenance of the parking areas is also accomplished with robots, and in northern locales, lots are heated with underground coils and the melt is collected and processed for use in the store bathrooms, thereby neatly avoiding paying for city water.
Credit problems are processed in any one of several Middle Eastern countries, as punishment there is far more severe than allowed by the U.S., and therefore a much greater deterrent to delinquencies.
The store, in Europe and Asia called FahrtMart (Go Mart), will probably be renamed for the U.S. market.