Wal-Mart Stores is an irresistible (or at least unavoidable) retail force that has yet to meet any immovable objects. Bigger than Europe's Carrefour, Metro AG, and Tesco combined, it's the world's #1 retailer with some 2.2 million employees. In the US, Wal-Mart operates about 5,000 stores, including about 4,300 Wal-Mart stores and 640 Sam's Club warehouses, and a growing number of smaller format stores. The company's faster growing international division (29% of sales) numbers more than 6,100 locations; Wal-Mart is the #1 retailer in Canada and Mexico and has operations in Asia (where it owns a 95% stake in Japanese retailer SEIYU), Africa, Europe, and Latin America.
The company operates in three segments: Walmart US, Walmart International, and Sam's Club. The Walmart US segment encompasses the company's Wal-Mart stores in the US as well as the walmart.com website; it's the largest segment, representing nearly 60% of sales. International operations (some 29% of sales) includes all stores outside of the US and various online retail sites. Sam's Club, representing 12% of sales, operates warehouse membership clubs in the US and the samsclub.com website.
The retailer also operates a dwindling number of discount stores, many of which are being enlarged to become Supercenters. Discount stores range in size from 30,000 sq. ft. to 219,000 sq. ft., while Supercenters range from 70,000 sq. ft. to 260,000 sq. ft. (with an average of 179,000 sq. ft.). Sam's Club warehouse centers average 134,000 sq. ft. of space. Smaller formats include Neighborhood Markets in the US (averaging 40,000 sq. ft.) and supermarkets and bodegas in Mexico. The International division operates a diverse portfolio with more than 70 banners, representing three major categories: retail, wholesale, and other (which includes restaurants in Chile, Japan, and Mexico).
The retail giant's online incarnation, Walmart.com offers more than 1,000,000 products. The e-tailer is expanding by offering merchandise from other retailers at its new virtual mall called Walmart Marketplace. The virtual mall offers apparel, baby, home, and sporting goods items from other sellers in return for a share of the revenue.
More than 245 million customers visit Wal-Mart's stores and websites each week.
Wal-Mart Stores rings up more than 70% of its sales in the US. In the 20 years since the Arkansas-based retailer entered Mexico (its first and largest foreign market), Wal-Mart Stores has become an international retail powerhouse with operations in 26 countries. Of its 11,000-plus stores, more than half are located outside of the US. Indeed, Walmart International is the company's growth engine, accounting for nearly 30% of sales. In addition to Mexico, major foreign markets include Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Central America, Chile, China, India, Japan, and the UK.
Sales and Marketing
Wal-Mart Stores spent $2.4 billion on advertising during fiscal 2014 (ended January), up from $2.3 billion in fiscal 2013. Its advertising consists primarily of print, television, and online ads.
The Walmart US segment operates 132 distribution facilities including return facilities and e-commerce fulfillment centers; the Sam's Club segment operates 23 distribution facilities. The company also has 151 international distribution facilities.
The world's largest retailer has seen steady growth over the past five years. Its sales topped $476 billion in fiscal 2014 (ended January), up 1.5% from 2013 and another all-time high for the company. The rise in revenue was driven by rapid growth overseas and improved performance at home; Walmart US sales grew 2%, Walmart International and Sam's Club each grew 1%. Acquisitions that year also helped expand Wal-Mart's retail space. E-commerce sales in all countries with those channels rose, particularly in Brazil, China, and the UK. Despite the revenue growth, Wal-Mart's net income fell 6% to $16 billion (versus $17 billion in fiscal 2013) as expenses rose more rapidly than income.
Cash flow from operations fell 9% to $23.3 billion in fiscal 2014 due to a decline in cash received from accounts payable.
The company's growth strategy for its international business includes acquiring new stores and striking up alliances to enter new markets. Wal-Mart is also investing in growing its e-commerce and mobile channels.
With its US operation stuck in a rut, Wal-Mart in mid-2014 replaced the head of its US stores division and announced plans to significantly accelerate domestic small store growth, adding approximately 270 to 300 small stores, including up to 140 Express format stores, over the course of the year. (Wal-Mart is rebranding the smaller-scale Walmart Express stores under the Neighborhood Market banner.) The retailer also plans to open 115 new Supercenters. Among the many measures the company has taken to get its groove back at home (including a sunny new logo), was a restructuring of its US organization (including top executive changes), the formation of a new division to oversee global e-commerce (called Walmart Global eCommerce), and a new global sourcing partnership with Hong Kong-based Li & Fung. Under the terms of the deal, Li & Fung -- a provider of supply chain services -- will form a new company to manage the Wal-Mart account and will act as the company's buying agent. The reorganization in the US entails the formation of three geographic business units: Walmart West, Walmart South, and Walmart North, in an attempt to more efficiently manage its domestic stores. While the retail operation was carved into three geographic slices, the logistics, real estate, and store operations functions were consolidated under one leadership team.
With US suburbs saturated with Wal-Mart stores, the retailer has tried -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to gain access to urban markets. In 2011 Wal-Mart scored a significant breakthrough in its plan to build stores in US cities when it teamed up with Michelle Obama to launch its five-year plan to provide its customers with healthier, more affordable foods. Wal-Mart has reformulated its Great Value private label line of foods to reduce sodium, fats, and added sugars (and encourage its major suppliers to follow suit). Concurrently, with the first lady's support, it announced a commitment to building stores in underserved communities (aka "food deserts").
The company opened, relocated, or expanded 20 new Sam's Club stores in fiscal 2014; it intends to follow suit in fiscal 2015.
Given the breakneck pace of its international expansion over the past two decades and the growing importance of the international business to Wal-Mart's overall financial health, the fact that its Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mart de México, is the subject of a bribery scandal is a serious blow to the company and its leadership. Mexico is Wal-Mart's largest foreign market and home to more than 2,000 of its supercenters, Sam's Clubs warehouse stores, and numerous other retail formats. Farther south, Wal-Mart is growing quickly in numerous other countries in Latin America, including Chile and Brazil, where it operates 316 and 512 stores, respectively. One of the world's fast-growing emerging markets, Brazil is key to Wal-Mart's expansion in the region. E-commerce sales are also rapidly growing in China and Brazil.
Asia -- with the exception of Japan -- is another hot growth market for Wal-Mart. Through joint ventures the company operates almost 400 stores in China. To support its growth there, Wal-Mart is building its Asian headquarters in the coastal city of Shenzhen, the site of its first supercenter and Sam's Club in China. And in a move that demonstrates how important the vast Chinese market is to the world's largest retailer, staunchly anti-union Wal-Mart has announced that it will work with officials there to establish labor unions in all Wal-Mart stores in China. Wal-Mart is poised to enter India's huge but fragmented market via a joint venture with the Bharti Enterprises. (Regulations in India prohibit retailers like Wal-Mart from selling directly to consumers, but allow them to engage in wholesale cash-and-carry and back-end supply chain management operations in the country.) Wal-Mart's first wholesale outlet in India -- a BestPrice Modern Wholesale store --opened in 2009 and the company has since grown to number 20 locations. Another 50 locations are expected to open by 2019. In an about face, Wal-Mart in fall 2014 announced it will shutter 30 underperforming stores in Japan, just two years after it began expanding in there.
The company is also making efforts towards sustainability, with an end goal of using 100% renewable energy. In 2014 it announced that it would install up to 400 new solar projects across the US by 2018.
Following the death of Helen Robson Walton in 2007, the Walton family announced that much of the Wal-Mart stock held by Mrs. Walton through a family partnership will be donated to charity over several years. As a result, the Walton family's grip on the world's largest retailer will slip from about 50% (as of April 2013) to about 33%, following the disposition of Mrs. Walton's stake.