Wal-Mart has more than its fair share of critics. The superstore has spread across the world quickly, knocking off smaller competitors in its path. But no matter what you think of its business tactics, low prices trump politics during a recession. While nearly every other large American retailer suffered significant losses in the first months of 2009, Wal-Mart reported a 5.1 percent increase in profits, more than doubling Wall Street's expectations of 2.4 percent [source: Reeves].
Not surprisingly, dollar stores and thrift stores also thrive during recessions. The three biggest American discount chains — Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree — became Wall Street darlings during the recession as they each added thousands of stores from 2008 to 2012 [source: Zimmerman]. Thrift stores and trendier "resale" shops also drew in new customers. According to the America's Research Group, 20 percent of people in 2012 said they shopped at thrift stores "regularly," up from 14 percent in 2008 [source: Tully].