What Is Walmart? An In-Depth Look at the World‘s Largest Retailer - 33rd Square (2024)

Chances are you have visited a Walmart store at some point in your life. With over 10,000 stores across 24 countries, Walmart is impossible to avoid. Maybe you are a weekly Walmart shopper who knows those aisles like the back of your hand. Or perhaps you have only stepped foot in a Walmart a handful of times over the years. Either way, I want to welcome you into the world of Walmart.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll explain everything you need to know about Walmart – what it sells, how it works, why people love it, and how it became the retail juggernaut we know today. Consider this your insider‘s guide to understanding this game-changing company. Let‘s explore the one and only Walmart!

A Little Background

Before we dive in, let‘s rewind a bit. Walmart‘s story begins in 1962 when businessman Sam Walton opened the first Walmart discount store in Rogers, Arkansas. Walton had a vision to bring affordable goods and services to small, rural towns that were overlooked by major retailers at the time.

Walton‘s revolutionary idea was to buy products in huge volumes to get better prices from manufacturers. Then he passed those savings on to customers by pricing everything low everyday – a radical idea in a time when stores still held occasional sales.

This laser-focus on low prices allowed Walmart to undercut other local retailers and quickly expand throughout the South and Midwest. Fast forward to today, and Walmart employs over 2.2 million associates worldwide and tops the Fortune 500 ranking of America‘s largest companies.

What started as a five-and-dime store in Arkansas is now a global retail powerhouse thanks to Walton‘s price-driven strategy that still defines Walmart today.

Store Formats – More Than Just Supercenters

When you hear "Walmart," you probably visualize the massive supercenters with aisles upon aisles of merchandise and bustling crowds. And it‘s true – supercenters make up over 70% of Walmart‘s 5,342 stores nationwide. But Walmart actually operates quite a few different store formats to serve various purposes. Let‘s break them down:

  • Supercenters – Walmart‘s flagship stores averaging a massive 178,000 square feet. They sell everything – groceries, clothing, home goods, outdoor equipment, etc. One-stop shopping at its best.

  • Discount Stores – The original Walmart format from 1962, these are smaller at about 108,000 square feet and focus just on general merchandise like home goods, clothing, toys, and outdoor equipment. No groceries.

  • Neighborhood Markets – Walmart‘s grocery-focused stores averaging 66,000 square feet. Ideal for weekly food shopping trips with some general merchandise like beauty and housewares too.

  • Sam‘s Club – A members-only warehouse club selling bulk grocery and general merchandise items. Sam‘s Club has nearly 600 locations globally.

  • Online – Walmart.com offers free two-day shipping on over 100,000 items with easy in-store returns. A fast-growing segment as Walmart battles Amazon.

Now you know the Walmart empire goes far beyond just the supercenters we all know and love!

Why People Love Walmart – Low Prices, One-Stop Shopping, and More

Over 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart, and 140 million customers visit a store each week. With those kinds of stats, it‘s clear Walmart has won over millions of devoted shoppers in its 60 years. Here are the key reasons people flock to Walmart week after week:

Low Prices

Walmart‘s claim to fame is "everyday low prices" on all products, from pantry staples to big-screen TVs. By driving efficiency through their supply chain and leveraging their staggering volume to get manufacturers‘ lowest wholesale costs, they pass massive savings to customers.

Studies confirm you‘ll pay 10-15% less at Walmart for the exact same item versus competitors. For shoppers on a strict budget, those savings add up fast!

One-Stop Shopping

Why make multiple trips to different stores when you can knock it all out at Walmart? Supercenters carry everything under one roof, from backyard grills to birthday cards. While not always easy to navigate these megastores, the sheer assortment and convenience is a huge time-saver.

Top Brands

While Walmart has plenty of store brands, they also carry all the top national brands shoppers love. You‘ll find Nike shoes, Lego toys, Pyrex containers, HP printers, and more at everyday low costs.

Pharmacy & Services

With pharmacies, auto care centers, vision centers, and more, Walmart offers services beyond just shopping. You can even order groceries online and pick them up curbside at many locations. Talk about convenience!

Return Policy

Walmart accepts nearly any return with or without a receipt. No wonder there‘s always a line at customer service!

The Experience

Say what you will about Walmart, but visiting one is an experience. From the smiling greeters to massive supercenters bustling with activity, Walmart stores are a cultural phenomenon.

By the Numbers – Walmart‘s Staggering Scale

Let‘s take a minute to look at some stats that showcase Walmart‘s sheer size and market dominance. These numbers really put Walmart‘s retail reign into perspective:

  • 10,500 – Total number of Walmart stores worldwide

  • $573 billion – Walmart‘s revenue in FY 2022, making it the #1 company on the Fortune 500

  • 2.2 million – Walmart‘s global workforce, making it the largest private employer

  • 90% – Percentage of Americans who live within 10 miles of a Walmart store

  • #1 – Walmart‘s ranking as world‘s largest retailer, ahead of Amazon

  • 140 million – Number of customers who visit a Walmart store each week, approximately the population of Russia

  • 24 – Number of countries where Walmart operates stores and e-commerce

  • 578 million – Total square footage of Walmart‘s US stores, equal to over 4,000 football fields

  • $13 billion – Walmart‘s e-commerce sales in Q3 2022, up 8% year-over-year

Simply put, Walmart‘s scale is mind-boggling. It‘s no surprise Walmart can leverage its size to command the lowest prices from suppliers. Competitors can‘t dream of matching this retail titan‘s reach and dominance.

Origins of That Famous Name

You‘re probably wondering about Walmart‘s odd name. Here‘s the scoop: It was originally called Wal-Mart, with a hyphen between Wal and Mart. Sam Walton thought the hyphen would help clarify pronunciation and make the name more memorable.

In 2008, the company officially changed its legal name to Walmart and dropped the hyphen to present a more unified brand. But don‘t worry – Walmart will always be affectionately known as Wally World by its biggest fans! The catchy nickname plays off founder Sam Walton‘s name and the larger-than-life Walmart experience.

Not a Department Store, Not a Grocery – A Category of Its Own

When describing Walmart to someone unfamiliar, it‘s tricky to pinpoint exactly what type of store it is. Walmart is neither a traditional department store like Macy‘s or Nordstrom nor a standard grocery store like Kroger or Safeway. Instead, it falls into the unique niche of a discount department store.

While Walmart stocks all the product categories you‘d find in a classic department store, its brand mix skews toward more value-priced merchandise rather than high-end goods. You‘re more likely to find Levi‘s jeans than designer denim.

And the shopping experience itself is bare-bones compared to posh department stores. You won‘t find elaborate displays, personalized service, or amenities like spas or restaurants.

At the same time, Walmart stores go far beyond a typical grocery store‘s offerings. The supercenter layout essentially fused a department store and supermarket together under one roof. This revolutionary hybrid model has never been replicated with such success.

So while Walmart draws inspiration from existing retail models, it remains a category of one – the original and ultimate discount department store.

Inside a Supercenter – Your All-in-One Shop

Since supercenters make up a majority of Walmarts, let‘s explore everything you‘ll find inside these retail behemoths. Stepping into a Walmart supercenter feels a bit like entering a separate universe. At an average of 178,000 square feet – more than two football fields – these stores are simply massive. Here are some of the key departments and products:

  • Grocery – Endless aisles of fresh produce, meat/seafood, bakery, dairy, frozen foods, pantry items, and more. You can buy everything from bananas to brownie mix.

  • Clothing – Men‘s, women‘s, children‘s, and baby apparel and accessories. Brands like Nike, Levi‘s, and Fruit of the Loom at low prices.

  • Home – Furniture, appliances, kitchenware, bedding, home decor, storage items, cleaning supplies, and bathroom essentials. Everything you need to outfit a home.

  • Electronics – Giant selection of TVs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, cameras, video games, movies, tech accessories and more. All the top brands too.

  • Toys – Every kind of toy imaginable from Mongoose bikes to Nerf blasters. For birthdays and holidays, one-stop toy shopping.

  • Beauty – Cosmetics, skincare, haircare, fragrances, nail polish, salon products. Leading brands without the department store prices.

  • Pharmacy – Prescriptions, medication counseling, immunizations, over-the-counter medicine, dental care, photos. Conveniently located at the front of most stores.

  • Auto – Tires, batteries, oil changes, and other car maintenance services. Walmart auto technicians can take care of all your vehicle‘s needs.

See what I mean about Walmart having it all? No wonder over 140 million people visit every week – everything you could possibly need is right there waiting. The supercenter concept made one-stop shopping a reality for families.

Cheap or Pricey? Walmart‘s Value-Focused Pricing

With Walmart‘s constant "rollbacks" and "everyday low price" tags, you probably assume everything is dirt cheap. The reality is a bit more nuanced.

There‘s no denying Walmart offers amazing prices compared to major chains like Target and Kroger. Independent studies show Walmart‘s prices run 10-15% lower than competitors on identical items. But they aren‘t necessarily the rock-bottom cheapest on every single product.

Some examples:

  • Great Value ice cream, 1.5 quarts – $2.97 at Walmart vs. $3.49 at Albertsons

  • Hanes men‘s t-shirts, pack of 5 – $9.98 at Walmart vs. $12.99 at Kohl‘s

  • Apple Airpods Pro – $199 at Walmart vs. $249 at Best Buy

However, extreme low-cost grocers like Aldi, Save-a-Lot, and WinCo underprice Walmart on many basic pantry and household items. And for higher-end specialty products, niche retailers sometimes beat Walmart.

But overall, Walmart does offer outstanding everyday value across the board. If getting the absolute lowest price on every single item is crucial, then extreme discount stores are worth comparing prices against Walmart. But for one-stop shopping convenience, Walmart wins on price and assortment hands down.

How Walmart Keeps Prices So Low

Walmart‘s price leadership did not happen by accident – it is the result of a brilliantly efficient business model fine-tuned over decades. Their operational excellence allows prices customers love and competitors envy. Here‘s how they do it:

Supply Chain Mastery – By pioneering practices like automated distribution centers and RFID tracking, Walmart keeps inventory and logistics costs to a bare minimum. This allows them to pass savings to customers.

Scale Purchasing Power – Walmart‘s mind-boggling size gives them unmatched leverage with suppliers. Vendors bend over backwards to meet Walmart‘s demands for bottom-dollar wholesale pricing since they buy in such huge volumes.

Private Brands – In-house brands now make up over 30% of Walmart‘s sales. They cut out third-party costs and have high profit margins for Walmart.

Lean Labor Model – Relying on lower-paid hourly associates rather than commissioned salespeople reduces Walmart‘s largest controllable expense, payroll.

Bare-Bones Stores – No flashy decor, minimal staffing, and basic shelving keeps stores inexpensive to operate. Focus stays on low prices rather than luxury.

Walmart has pricing down to a science. Competitors simply can‘t match this finely tuned retail machine.

Controversies and Criticisms Over the Years

Despite its popularity among shoppers, Walmart has faced immense scrutiny from the public and media over its 60-year reign. Here are some of the main controversies and criticisms:

  • Labor relations – Unions criticize Walmart‘s resistance to organized labor in US stores and accuse them of paying unlivable wages. But Walmart asserts that its pay and benefits are competitive for retail.

  • Supply chain ethics – Walmart has faced several scandals related to unsafe working conditions, underage labor, and environmental violations among its global suppliers, particularly in China and Bangladesh. However, Walmart has beefed up auditing and policies.

  • Community impact – Walmart is blamed for shutting down local Main Street businesses unable to compete with their super low pricing. But they argue they help communities by creating jobs and lowering consumer prices.

  • Environmental sustainability – In the past, Walmart lagged behind in sustainability initiatives but has now committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy and zero waste.

While Walmart still has its vocal critics, the retail giant has made significant strides to improve its reputation both externally and internally in recent years. The scrutiny will likely persist given Walmart‘s market dominance.

Top Competitors – Who Comes Closest to Walmart?

With Walmart‘s dominant market share, competitors have struggled to keep pace. But a few formidable rivals continue nipping at Walmart‘s heels in key categories:

Amazon – The e-commerce juggernaut is Walmart‘s biggest threat as more shopping moves online. Amazon now accounts for nearly 40% of US online sales.

Target – Direct discount store rival to Walmart, Target differentiates itself through trendier merchandising and partnerships. But its prices can‘t quite compete.

Costco – The leading members-only warehouse club actually surpasses Walmart in annual sales per store thanks to its loyal customer base.

Kroger – America‘s largest pure-play grocer and Walmart‘s arch supermarket foe. Kroger competes aggressively on prices and store experience.

Home Depot – Leading home improvement retailer that dwarfs Walmart in its core category, beating Walmart in selection and service.

Aldi – No-frills German discount grocery chain rapidly expanding in the US with prices that often undercut Walmart.

While these brands put up a worthy fight in specific areas like produce or home goods, no single competitor comes close to matching Walmart‘s full range, rock-bottom pricing, and one-stop shopping convenience. The retail giant seems firmly entrenched for years to come.

Walmart‘s Place in American Culture

It‘s impossible to deny Walmart‘s cultural influence in America. With metrics like 90% of Americans living within 10 miles of a store, Walmart is woven into the nation‘s social fabric.

Families across the country rely weekly on Walmart‘s one-stop affordability. The brand became a concept synonymous with American commerce and consumerism. And for better or worse, Main Streets changed forever when Walmart came to small-town America.

While some blame Walmart for killing mom-and-pop businesses, Walmart gave Americans access to a phenomenal selection at previously unthinkable prices. Its impact is complicated, but undeniably transformative.

Walmart reflects some of America‘s deepest values – entrepreneurship, freedom of choice, and living better through mass merchandising. And with its continued growth amid retail instability, it seems the chain will be part of Americana for decades to come.

The next time you‘re stocking up on groceries, buying a new wardrobe for the kids, or just browsing the latest gadgets, take a moment to appreciate the retail legend around you. Walmart‘s story is so much richer than you might imagine!

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