Walmart Stores Incorporated has announced plans to expand its operations further both at home and abroad. The company is already the largest retailer in the United States and worldwide. The same business model developed at the first Walmart store in the southern U.S. state of Arkansas has worked well in other countries as well.
Walmart plans to increase its store space in the United States by eight percent next year and expand its international operations by 155 to 165 stores in existing markets. Over the past two decades Walmart has grown from a local operation in Arkansas to a worldwide phenomenon based on low-prices, giant stores and a computer-based distribution system that business experts say is a model of efficiency.
Company spokesman Bill Wertz, speaking to VOA from Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, says the same business model is applied overseas, even though the name may change.
"When we go into other markets outside the United States, we often do not even have stores that are called Walmarts," he said. "We customize them and they look very different than they do in the United States. So, in every market where we operate, our stores look like other stores in the community."
Walmart's biggest foreign operations are in Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom. Mr. Wertz says Walmart has a minority interest in a profitable Japanese retailer called Seiyu and there are also Walmart stores or Walmart-operated stores in Germany, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and China.
"The 155 to 165 units are all in those markets, not counting Japan, and about 30 of them will be expansions of existing units," he said. "The rest will be brand new stores of one kind or another."
Mr. Wertz says there are no plans to expand into other countries at this time, although that could happen as part of a later expansion plan.
Judging by customer choice, Walmart is a monumental success. Every year, more than 80 percent of U.S. households make purchases at Walmart. The "Walmart economy" as it has become known is credited by some economists for keeping down inflation and helping low-income families to buy more. But critics say the company's large operations drive smaller stores out of competition and disrupt the economic life of small communities.
One way Walmart keeps prices low in the United States is by importing many products from low-wage countries like China. In 2002, according to BusinessWeek magazine, Walmart imported $12 billion worth of goods from China, accounting for one tenth of all U.S. imports from China for that year.