On my lunch break, I took the liberty of biking out the fabled Wal-Mart of La Plata. Like most Wal-Marts, it was confined to the outskirts of town and I had to head past the city limits to get there. Riding highway shoulders on beach cruisers is not advisable in Argentina, just FYI.
I was in search for a yoga mat and figured because it boasted of “precios mas bajos,” Wal-Mart would be the place for cheaply imported Chinese products. I was in for a huge disappointment when the only mat available was a Reebok “yoga set” (is Reebok even made in China?) with block and carrying bag for 250 pesos ($68 USD!).
All in all, I’d say Wal-Mart Argentina was entirely lacking in “cheap plastic crap” (to quote a sticker I always used to rock on my bass amp) that characterizes most Wal-Mart’s in the U.S.
The Electronics section was pitiful. A few cameras, printers, monitors and hair straighteners, with a selection of maybe 100 different DVDs. Here’s the big kicker: 4GB iPod Nano, 750 Pesos, which is about USD $200 before tax, nearly twice as much as it is in the US. A lot of this has to do with trade relations. Argentina isn’t up to Chilean or Mexican standards with their Chinese/US trade accords, meaning electronics and cheap plastic crap is generally more costly here.
The end result is a Wal-Mart dominated by foodstuffs and bulk items (a la Costco). I’m always ambivalent towards the idea of Wal-Marts in developing countries. I definitely think they are harmful to U.S. jobs and workers, but in some instances studies have show that communities living far from metropolitan centers can actually benefit from having a Wal-Mart near them; any many have started implementing environmental reforms. Dissapointed I didn’t get a chance to check one out in Mexico, where they are one of the fastest growing retailers and have sparked plenty of controversy.