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What’s next for Walmart?

Today I was surprised to learn from Charlie Gardner’s blog that groceries now represent 56% of Walmart’s sales. This is a huge number that I frankly wouldn’t have expected. 

Groceries have relatively low online penetration, which makes them great for brick-and-mortar retailers. I’ve written about this topic before in the context of big box stores and online shopping. But I clearly didn’t realize that it had become such a big segment for Walmart. 

What’s also noteworthy about grocery shopping though, is that customers appear to be less likely to travel far distances for it, even for lower prices. This means that the radial impact of Walmart the supermarket is less significant and far tighter (~2 miles) than Walmart the discount store. Click here for that study.

This is important because a big catchment area has been central to the Walmart model. They consume cheap land on the outskirts of cities and then offload the transportation costs (indirect costs) to consumers in exchange for everyday low prices (direct costs). Studies show that we, consumers, typically undervalue indirect costs.

Charlie argues in his post that this does not mean that we should write off big box retailing. And I would agree. The Walmart Express concept may have failed, but they are clearly looking for ways to rethink their model. Urban stores will need to form part of that.

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