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Occupy has wrong 'Target': Consumers and economy value Wal-Mart et al.

By shifting its focus from Wall Street and targeting companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com, the Occupy movement could do more harm to American consumers than good. A new study shows these companies make consumers feel safe, satisfied, even happy. And they create jobs.

By Dawn Lerman and Luke Kachersky / March 27, 2012

Occupy protesters demonstrate at a Wal-Mart distribution center in Mira Loma, Calif. Feb. 29. Op-ed contributors Dawn Lerman and Luke Kachersky cite a new study that shows Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, and Target are also among the companies the American public values most as consumers. They explain that 'there’s a good reason for that – one that the Occupy movement is missing.'

Alex Gallardo/Reuters

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The Occupy movement recently called for a move off Wall Street and onto a new target: the nation’s biggest retailers. According to the latest Occupy alerts, Home Depot, Toys R Us, and OfficeMax are the next line of bogeys “in the pockets of Wall Street.”

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Companies like Wal-Mart have been targeted by Occupy because they offer low wages with relatively few benefits, driving small businesses out of local communities. And as dominant players in the marketplace they can pressure suppliers to comply with their standards – for better or for worse. But as a new study shows, Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, and Target are also among the companies the American public values most as consumers.

And there’s a good reason for that – one that the Occupy movement is missing.

Americans’ preference for these companies is not just about cheap goods; it’s about how we feel. According to V-Positive, a new quarterly survey from Fordham University’s Center for Positive Marketing, the impact that brands have on consumer well-being is undeniable.

V-Positive identifies how well brands help consumers to satisfy the wide variety of needs that we have as human beings. Research in psychology summarizes these needs into seven categories:

1) physiological – the need for water, sleep, and food

2) safety – the need for security and protection

3) social – the need for love, friendship, and acceptance

4) ego – the need for prestige, status, and accomplishment

5) self-actualization – the need to reach one’s full potential

6) experiential – the need to be psychologically engaged in activities

7) happiness – the need to feel pleasure

V-Positive tracks the importance that American consumers attach to each of these needs and the performance of certain brands in helping to fulfill them. A brand that fulfills the needs that consumers deem most important gets a high V-Positive score. Over time these scores will be reported in a Consumer Value Index, tracking how brands contribute (or not) to our overall well-being.

Wal-Mart, for example – arguably the primary target of Occupy – ranks No. 1 in terms of its positive impact on overall US consumer well-being, according to V-Positive. Every day Wal-Mart makes measurable, meaningful differences in the lives of millions of consumers across the United States.

What differences, you ask? Well, consider this: In the fourth quarter of 2011 Wal-Mart overtook Visa’s top ranking in helping consumers feel safe and secure. Through its low prices in nearly every consumer product category, Wal-Mart allows cash-strapped consumers to feed, clothe, and otherwise provide for their families, while giving them confidence that they will be able to continue to do so.

Within this same context, perhaps it should be of little surprise that Wal-Mart ranks just behind Facebook in helping consumers to satisfy their social needs. Psychologists often stress the importance of socializing, or even just surrounding oneself with other people, during tough economic times.

This is easy to do in big cities, where you can walk out your door to get a dose of humanity. But in rural America, where people live great distances from each other, the nearest Wal-Mart is one of the few places to socialize. Just as suburban kids hang out at the mall, rural kids hang out at Wal-Mart.

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