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Retail and Monopoly: Who Will Be Left Standing?


retail-monopolyBy Ryan Bradshaw
Faculty Member, Retail Management at American Public University

Playing board games have always been one of my favorite pastimes, including Monopoly. I often think back to my experiences with the game especially when I consider the impact of large business acquisitions.

Everyone should know what Monopoly is, but with the rise of digital gaming I’ll offer a brief refresher for the younger generation. Usually two to four players gather around the board and are issued an equal amount of cash to buy properties in the pursuit of monopolizing the board and winning the game.

Today’s retail climate has certain parallels to the game, with the exception of much bigger players and vast amounts of money at stake. Just this week Dollar Tree announced the acquisition of Family Dollar; a move that will create an $18 billion empire with over 13,000 store locations. By comparison, Walmart Stores have 4,900 retail units in the United States.

When I read about large acquisitions such as this, it raises a lot of thoughts. On the one hand it is the American way to build a company to the point where it wins by having the most customers, the most profit, the most market share, and the most value. On the other hand this consolidation of power in the hands of a few does leave fewer options for consumers.

This reminds me Jimmy Stewart’s speech in It’s A Wonderful Life. In it, he is warns the town that if they sell out to Potter he will control everything and they will have to pay his prices and live under his rules. Modern day equivalents would be the limited choices in cable and energy, which puts consumers at the mercy of providers. The meat industry has already seen a vast consolidation of ownership. And we all know the result of the 2008 bank bailouts; the banks were consolidated further, leaving the top ten institutions controlling nearly 80 percent of all United States banking assets. Entrepreneur and billionaire, Nick Hanauer, said in a recent interview that income inequality and the consolidation of power is not healthy for an economy to flourish. In fact, the winners at the top will create a losing situation for everyone: an environment where little to no middle-class exists and the economic wheel grinds to a halt.

The environment we live in today can be likened to us sitting back down to play a friendly game of Monopoly. Only this time, a few players at the table keep all the money and property and start you off with only $1 to play. They know they will eventually get that too and duke it out against each other until only one remains. Is this a grim vision of the future of capitalism? Maybe. Can it happen? I think it already is.

About the Author

Ryan Bradshaw is currently a doctoral candidate writing his dissertation on student motivation and teaches courses for American Public University in the area of retail management.