From the swarming Indian metropolis of Mumbai to the windy streets of Chicago, a resurgent Walmart is flexing its muscles a bit more these days.
For a couple of years, during the Great Recession, Walmart was naturally preoccupied with its sagging sales and other troubles at home. But with U.S. same-store sales back in a solid growth mode now after Walmart executives about-faced and returned to their tried-and-true promotional and merchandising formula, the company has freed up cash flow to look at other potential growth areas.
One of the most beckoning is India. Some critics are still lashing the Indian government for its move last Friday finally to boost its economy by allowing greater foreign participation in retailing investment in the country, and other measures designed to kick-start an economy that is slowing even though India's population growth continues.
Walmart stands to become one of the biggest beneficiaries now that the Indian government finally has pulled the trigger on allowing up to 51 percent foreign direct investment in local ventures by multibrand retail outlets. Opponents have said that such investments will only benefit companies based abroad while hurting India's small merchants.
India is estimated to be a $505-billion annual retail market. And at this point, Walmart is poised to become the biggest winner from this new provision as global retailers move to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to expand operations across the globe's second-most-populous country. Not only is Walmart ready to do so, but potential rivals Carrefour and Tesco, both based in Europe, are facing difficulties in their home markets that may stifle new ventures abroad. Tesco, meanwhile, is struggling with its Fresh & Easy grocery brand in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Walmart is leaving no stone unturned in its revitalized U.S. operations either. It's testing an online receipt comparison tool in its Chicago, Atlanta and Albuquerque, N.M. markets, which allows shoppers to compare receipts from other grocery retailers with Walmart prices and calculates the (presumed) savings if the shopper would have veered to Walmart instead.
The tool is still glitchy, but even so, Walmart "knows they're going to win most of the time," grocery consultant Davied Livingston commented to Crain's Chicago Business, "and it sends the message to the consumer that if they're not afraid of price comparison, why would someone bother shopping elsewhere?"