Walmart International focusing on existing markets

Thu Apr 12, 2012 4:26pm EDT
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By Jessica Wohl and Allison Martell

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc is focused on improving results in China and other foreign countries where it already operates, rather than on entering new markets, its top international executive said on Thursday.

"Our focus this year in particular has been on improving returns with our existing businesses," Walmart International Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon told investors and analysts at a meeting in Toronto that was also webcast.

Building on the success that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has had in markets such as Canada and the United Kingdom and moving past missteps in China and elsewhere are critical to its future.

While the bulk of Wal-Mart's sales and profit come from the United States, the international business is growing much faster, as many U.S. markets are already saturated with stores and the economy there remains sluggish.

Much of the meeting focused on Canada, where Walmart says it is now the fastest-growing retailer. The chain's rapid expansion is coming ahead of Target Corp's entry into that market.

Walmart plans to have 380 Canadian stores by the end of January, up from 333 now. The 39 Zellers discount stores it bought from Target -- which bought the leases from Hudson's Bay Co to break into Canada -- will be up and running for the holiday season. Target won't open any stores until the spring.

Walmart Canada also has been busy converting many of its outlets to "supercenters," which sell a wider array of grocery items than regular stores, along with general merchandise.

"Converting their traditional discount stores to supercenters enables Walmart to gain a bigger chunk of consumers' wallets and encourages more frequent trips," said Natalie Berg, director of global research at Planet Retail.   Continued...

Employees stand in front of the gate to a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Chongqing municipality October 24, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer