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July 20, 2011

10 Things You Might Not Know About Walmart (Guest Post)

By Mark J. Perry

Walmart is without question the most successful retailer in the history of the United States, and in the history of the entire world by almost any measure (number of stores, sales revenue, number of employees, market share, etc.) Here are some Walmart facts:
  1. In 2010, American consumers bought almost as much merchandise at low-priced Walmart ($307.7 billion in U.S. retail sales) as they purchased from the next five largest U.S. retailers combined ($324.5 billion): Kroger ($78.3 billion), Target ($65.8 billion), Walgreen ($61.2 billion), Home Depot ($60.1 billion) and Costco ($58.9 billion). 
  2. In 2010, American consumers purchased more than 7% of their retail sales at a Walmart or a Sam's Club stores, and more than 8.5% of retail sales if autos are excluded. 
  3. Walmart now operates more than 9,000 retail outlets around the world in 15 countries. 
  4. For the first time in its history, 2011 marked the first year that Walmart operated more retail stores outside the U.S. (4,803) than in the U.S. (4,427), and the international units generated more than 27% of Walmart's 2010 revenue. 
  5. In 2005, almost half (46%) of Americans lived within 5 miles of a Walmart or Sam's Club, and 88% lived within 15 miles of a Walmart or Sam's Club. 
  6. As Vincent Geloso points out on his blog (which inspired this blog post), "The growth of productivity at Wal-Mart, matched by real wages growth, has allowed the corporation to cut prices systematically and provide consumers with a service they really desire. This has resulted in growth that is faster than the overall rate of economic growth."

The chart above shows how Walmart sales as a share of U.S. GDP have grown from about one-third of one percent (0.37%) in 1989 to more than 2% (estimated) in 2011. In other words, for every $45 dollars spent in the U.S. economy this year, almost $1 will be spent on a purchase at a Walmart. If we account for Walmart's total world sales, its sales as a share of GDP will approach 3% this year.

There has probably been no other company or organization in the history of the world that has done a better job of serving consumers than Walmart, with its "Everyday Low Prices" and obsession with supply chain efficiency. Walmart's increasing share of U.S. GDP is a testament to its amazing success at creating more consumer surplus than any company in history.

Watch this animation of Walmart's amazing expansion in the U.S. from 1962 to 2004:

About The Author - Dr. Mark J. Perry is a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the University of Michigan, and he blogs at Carpe Diem.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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