Wal-Mart that often maligned behemoth of a retailer, is in a unique position to give us insight into consumption. Since their sales represent such a large portion of the retail sales numbers, they can provide unique insight. Here are some fact about walmart from The Marginal Revolution:
Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world, measured by sales, $245 billion last year.
McKinsey estimates that one-eighth of the productivity gains of the late 1990s came from Wal-Mart.
Its $12 billion of imports from China account for a tenth of total U.S. imports from China.
It is estimated that Wal-Mart saved U.S. customers $20 billion last year.
82% percent of American households made a purchase at a Wal-Mart last year.
On the darker side, it pays lower wages and "censors" music and magazines.
And do you worry about monopoly or monopsony power? In this context I don't, frankly, except for the cultural/censoring issue, but still it is worth noting that Wal-Mart's U.S. market share of consumer staples could hit 50% by the end of the decade.
From Business Week , which has a long cover article, "Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?"
Here are two more facts:
1. It is the biggest employer in 21 states, with more people in uniform than the U.S. Army
2. Every year the company loses $2 billion in theft, this "enterprise" alone would rank #694 on the Fortune 1000.
And here is an interesting article pointed to by Brad Delong
Customers continue to buy the cheapest items in any given category -- a sign that household budgets remain tight, Lee Scott, Wal-Mart chief executive officer, said on a recorded message.
Buyers are "timing their expenditures around the receipt of their paychecks, indicating liquidity issues," Scott said.
An estimated 100 million people shop at its U.S. stores every week. The company takes in 6 to 8 cents of every U.S. dollar spent on retailing, excluding autos.