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(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc's Canadian unit will remodel or open 73 stores this year in its most ambitious expansion plan ever, aiming to stay ahead in a retail market that will grow more competitive with Target Corp's 2013 debut.
The world's largest retailer said on Tuesday it would invest more than $750 million in the program. The money will go in part toward the conversion of most of the 39 former Zellers locations that Wal-Mart picked up from Target.
Wal-Mart's rival - the No. 2 U.S. discounter - had purchased dozens of Zellers leases from Hudson's Bay Co in preparation for its Canadian entry, now set for early 2013. Target then sold off some leases for stores in unwanted locations.
Minneapolis-based Target plans to open up to 135 stores in Canada, starting in March or April 2013.
By the end of January 2013, Wal-Mart expects to have more than 375 outlets in Canada, up from 333 at the end of January 2012, and 325 a year earlier.
Wal-Mart is earmarking much of the spending on its Canadian supercenters, which represent more than half of the 73 projects. Supercenters, which feature a wider array of grocery items than standard Walmart stores, have already put pressure on profit margins at Canadian grocers.
Walmart and Target are not alone in looking for growth north of the border, as and more and more U.S. retailers, such as Nordstrom Inc and Kohl's Corp, contemplate a move into Canada.
Reporting by Aftab Ahmed in Bangalore and Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty