January 03, 2006
America's Most-Hated Company
Posted by Gordon Smith

What is America's most hated company? When I saw the title of this Economist article, I immediately thought of Wal-Mart, and it appears that I was not alone:

A straw poll by Fred Bateman, a professor of economics at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business, brings us to the present. He asked three classes in economics, about 100 students in all, which company they thought was the most hated in America. They almost all said Wal-Mart.

Walmart Without delving into the merits, I think Wal-Mart is the obvious choice for the current top spot, but I wonder whether Wal-Mart hatred is a class thing. The "elites" hate Wal-Mart, but ordinary people don't?

What are the most widely despised companies in the U.S.? Microsoft is the object of derision in technology circles, but most ordinary folks don't hate Microsoft. Cigarette companies have had their day, but oil companies seem to be a perennial whipping boy. Of course, the companies that inspire the most vigorous feelings are companies that have close contacts with consumers. Automobile manufacturers are an easy target, for example. So is McDonald's.

Did Americans hate Enron? I suspect that most Americans had never heard of Enron prior to its collapse and didn't have enough knowing contact with the company to hate it.

Larry Ribstein has often argued that envy is at the root of many of these feelings. So how long before Google makes the list?

Kudos to my friend Mason Carpenter for his contributions to the article, and thanks to my colleague Anuj Desai for the pointer.

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Comments (6)

1. Posted by Dave! on January 3, 2006 @ 6:06 | Permalink

I don't think it's necessarily class related. I'm of a very middle-middle class background, and I don't particularly care for many of Wal-Marts policies (although I don't think they are necessarily as evil as some would believe.) But I have relatives who would undoubtedly be considered "lower class" who shop regularly at Wal-Mart (no other options in much of rural America) who hate it... partly due to the vicious anti-union stance.

I think Ribstein is probably more on the mark... a wildly successful company with such a high public profile is a good target, no matter what (e.g. Microsoft). And I am seeing the swirling under-current of Google backlash in all sorts of places, too.


2. Posted by Gordon Smith on January 3, 2006 @ 8:36 | Permalink

Thanks, Dave. You probably noticed that I put a question mark at the end of my conjecture on class. I don't know one way or the other. It's just a hunch.


3. Posted by Stephen Martin on January 5, 2006 @ 16:24 | Permalink

I imagine "envy being at the root of these feelings" is just an early defense, or an easy excuse. It doesn't answer the charge. Instead, it attacks the speaker, sort of like what's sometimes called "character assassination."

Google might someday be hated too, maybe once they forget their principle not to "be evil."


4. Posted by John on January 5, 2006 @ 22:57 | Permalink

It would be ironic if the elites hated Wal-Mart and others didn't, considering those others are the ones who suffer from Wal-Mart's policies. Those who work for Wal-Mart are treated poorly, and it is well documented that Wal-Mart depresses local wages.

The elites, who don't work at Wal-Mart and are unaffected by reduced wages and benefits for low-wage earners, would only benefit from the savings.


5. Posted by PG on January 8, 2006 @ 14:26 | Permalink

I'd put up Ticketmaster as the most hated company in America:
Lots of (bad) customer interaction;
Consumers don't get to choose whether or not to use it -- venues do;
Very few discernable improvements to prevent bottlenecked sales and scalping;
and the value it adds to the underlying product (entertainment) is quite difficult to discern.

Then again, I've been trying to write about the evils of Ticketmaster on and off for the last seven years, so I'm biased.


6. Posted by Ken on February 23, 2006 @ 8:44 | Permalink

on concerning hated companies in america, i'd like to point out something far more as a wide opener, since most of us all going shopping when was the last time you had real customer service, i know i dont really get any anywhere i go and i live in dallas, not to long ago dateline did a uncover report about retail industry lacking customer service and they went to dillards, best buy, target, walmart and you know what very similiar findings either they couldn't find someone, someone knew nothing about a product, the employee was rude, when are companies going to realize that your business will fail if you only care about money and not your employees

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