Amazon, the next Walmart

Posted on Jan 20, 2014
By Gaurav Aidasani is the best-loved company in America, despite being very similar to one of the least-loved companies in America: Walmart.

The Internet megastore had the best public image of any U.S. company in 2013, according to a study released on Monday by YouGov, a market-research firm based in the U.K. YouGov surveyed about 1.2 million people online over the course of 2013 to come up with its rankings, which confirm earlier research: A Harris Interactive poll released in March scored Amazon with the best reputation among large U.S. corporations.

In the Harris poll, Walmart ranked 40th out of 60 total companies, toward the back of the pack with oil drillers and wireless carriers. YouGov only ranked the top 25 U.S. companies, and Walmart did not make that list. YouGov also broke down the five highest-rated discount retailers: Amazon topped that list, too, while Walmart did not appear.

In fact, many people despise Walmart, and have for years, as a torrent of bad press has weighed on its public image. Walmart's bad rep began when it systematically squashed family-owned shops during its rapid national expansion in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Since then, Walmart has endured a wave of lawsuits from workers accusing the retailer of gender discrimination, poor health care and wage theft.

Amazon, on the other hand, is loved for the breadth of its inventory and the ease of using its website. People love its convenience.

Yet the closer you look, the more Amazon begins to look like Walmart. Working conditions at the warehouses that make magical same-day delivery possible are starting to get scrutiny. In recent years, there have been media reports of warehouse workers fainting from heat exhaustion, with air-conditioning installed only many months later. Some U.S. employees are suing, claiming that they have not been paid for work or that Amazon employs tactics to avoid paying unemployment benefits. German colleagues went on strike over Christmas.

And while Walmart crushed its smaller competition, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos can be just as ruthless against upstart online stores. According to the new book "The Everything Store" by Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Brad Stone, Bezos tried to buy in 2009. When rebuffed, Amazon warned the co-founders that it would get into the diaper business. Soon after, Amazon undercut's prices. When Walmart later made an offer to buy the site, Amazon reps warned the startup that Bezos “was such a furious competitor that he would drive diaper prices to zero if they sold to Bentonville.”