Sept. 3, 2009 -- Sometimes the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping things in a store are not the goods but our fellow consumers.
That's the idea behind a new Web site that has become an instant hit making fun of shoppers at Wal-Mart. Shoppers are asked to submit photos to this independent Web site of people in outrageous clothing or extremely dated hairstyles.
"It literally looks as if there is a large rat laying on his head," reads one comment about a man in Texas with possibly one of the worst haircuts in history. Other photos feature a man in a Captain America costume and a goat on a leash.
The message to shoppers: think twice before leaving the house.
"I don't really care who you are, everybody knows that the mullet hasn't been cool for 20 years," said 23-year-old Andrew Kipple who founded the site People of Walmart with his brother Adam Kipple, 25, and their childhood friend Luke Wherry, 23. "Hey, if you like that hairstyle, that's fine but you also have to understand that people are going to laugh at you."
The site was created the first week in August but after some mentions late last week, it has become one of the Internet's latest hits. There has been so much traffic to the site that the trio has had to search for new server space.
Lynn Upshaw, founder of Upshaw Marketing, said Wal-Mart is an easy target because of its size. He doubts it will do harm to the brand.
"You find [this attire] in the zoo or any public place nowadays," Upshaw said. "It's not a good thing but right now I am not sure it's necessarily going to be a disastrous thing."
But who shops at a store does make a big difference to shopper. People look around at other shoppers in a retail establishment and want to see people like them, Upshaw said.
"Whether you're in Tiffany's, the Gap or a place like Wal-Mart you want to see other people like you," he said. "It reinforces that you are in a place that's right for you. If there are a lot of people dressed oddly -- and I don't know that there are -- it conceivably could be a turn-off."
But alienating just a few customers could hurt in this bad economy. Most large retailers are reporting monthly sales figures for August today and initial reports show that sales have continued to decline, causing more heartache for an already battered industry.
The idea for the People of Walmart site came from the three twentysomethings experiences shopping at Wal-Mart.
"No matter what time you go, there always seems to be that person there. It's almost jaw-dropping," said Andrew Kipple, a second-year law student at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
His brother is a Web designer and Wherry is a one-time math major now trying to find a job.
The site's creators say they won't just publish any old photo.
"We do not make fun of people who can't help their appearance," Kipple said. That means nobody who is mentally or physically challenged. Plenty of photos of overweight shoppers in scooters have been submitted along with a few shots of Amish customers. None of those made the cut.
"I'm not making us out to be saints," Kipple said. "We may be poking fun at people but we like to draw a line where a normal person would draw a line."
"We get lot of criticism that we are poking fun at the lower class," Kipple added. "And, may that be the case that most of the people on there are lower class? Maybe. But that just seems like an overgeneralization of Wal-Mart and not really our site."
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar declined to comment saying in an e-mail that it "doesn't seem like it's news that there's a website that allows people to post photos on it."
Joseph Jaffe, president of crayon, a marketing consulting company, said there is nothing that Wal-Mart can say or do about the site.
"Can they endorse it? No way," he said. "Can they laugh at it? No way.
"Any time somebody is laughing at another person it is demeaning," he added, but he said Wal-Mart is "dammed if they do or dammed if they don't" say anything about the site.
This not the first site -- and probably not the last -- to take shots at Wal-Mart. Most have however focused on labor disputes or bad experiences with the retail giant. This site has a more viral appeal because for some it makes you laugh and want to share it with friends.
But given Wal-Mart's size, such customers being spotted is not shocking. The company is, after all, the world's largest retailer.
"Let's face it, if there is any company in this country that caters to America, it's Wal-Mart. So you are going to see everybody," Jaffe said. "By the law of averages, you are going to see some ridiculous looking people."