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 more than 5,160 stores, including about 4,400 Wal-Mart stores and 650 Sam's Club warehouses, and a growing number of smaller format stores. The company's faster growing international division (28% 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.
Wal-Mart 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 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 28% of sales. In addition to Mexico, major foreign markets include Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Central America, Chile, China, India, Japan, and the UK.
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 59% of sales. International operations (some 28% of sales) includes all stores outside 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 260 million customers visit Wal-Mart's stores and websites each week.
Sales and Marketing
Wal-Mart spent $2.4 billion on advertising during both fiscal 2015 (ended January) and fiscal 2014, up from $2.3 billion in fiscal 2013. Its advertising consists primarily of print, television, and online ads.
The Walmart US segment operates 134 distribution facilities including return facilities and 11 e-commerce fulfillment centers; the Sam's Club segment operates 24 distribution facilities. The company also has 156 international distribution facilities.
Net revenues have increased year-over-year over the last five years.
In fiscal 2015 net revenues grew by 2% primarily due to a 3% growth in retail square feet, positive comparable US sales, and higher e-commerce sales (particularly in UK, China, and Brazil), partially offset by $5.3 billion of negative impact from currency exchange rate fluctuations. (Sales from Sam's Club Segment increases, was driven by the addition of 15 new clubs, partially offset by a decrease in fuel sales due to the lower prices).
Wal-Mart's net income in fiscal 2015 grew by 2% due to an increase in net sales and income from discontinued operations.
Net cash provided by operating activities increased by 23% due to the timing of payments for accounts payable and accrued liabilities, as well as the timing of income tax payments.
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.
However, in early 2016 the company announced plans to shutter 154 stores in the US and another 115 stores abroad. The decision to shut the stores down (its first mass store closure ever) followed a thorough review of its portfolio; impacted locations (which combined represent less than 1% of Wal-Mart's revenue and square footage) were either underperforming or didn't align with future strategic growth plans. In the US, they include all of the 102 company's small-format Walmart Express stores (a format that had been in pilot since 2011), plus nearly two dozen Neighborhood Markets, a dozen Supercenters, and a handful of discount centers and Sam's Clubs. Internationally, Latin America was the hardest hit -- especially Brazil, where 60 loss-making stores were shut down.
Despite the closures, Wal-Mart still plans to expand by opening between 200 and 400 new stores in 2016. As part of that expansion effort, it aims to open up to 60 Supercenters and 95 Neighborhood Markets locations by early 2017.
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. (Wal-Mart eventually dropped the smaller-scale Walmart Express stores to instead focus on the Neighborhood Market banner.) More Supercenters were also announced.
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. Wal-Mart scored a significant breakthrough in its plan to build stores in US cities when it teamed up with Michelle Obama (in 2011) 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 216 new Sam's Club stores in fiscal 2015; and announced plans to open 9 to 12 new and relocated clubs, and remodel at least 55 clubs, while investing in innovation at SamsClub.com.
To raise cash, in 2015 the company sold its Vips restaurant business in Mexico for $671 million.
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. Further south, Wal-Mart is growing quickly in numerous other countries in Latin America, including Chile and Brazil. 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 411 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.
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.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Boosting its holdings in South America, in 2014 Wal-Mart acquired Walmart Chile, increasing its ownership to 99.7%.
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.