Wal-Mart Learns to Think Locally and Act Globally

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Having powered its way to the top in U.S. retailing, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has struggled to extend its dominance across the globe.

But the world’s largest retailer is learning in Brazil and elsewhere that the most successful ideas don’t necessarily flow from its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. That has it tailoring inventories and stores to local tastes — and exporting ideas and products pioneered outside the U.S.

Traffic-choked São Paulo, for instance, proved inhospitable to the kind of vast stores with which Wal-Mart dominates in American suburbs. At the same time, the local-market savvy of Brazilian retailers that Wal-Mart acquired has proved invaluable.

“What we have learned in the past couple of years is that one size does not fit all,” says Anthony Hucker, a British retail veteran now tasked with taking winning Wal-Mart store formats and expanding them globally.

Wal-Mart’s challenge abroad is to cater to local tastes for native products that are not popular elsewhere, while still making the most of the global purchasing might that lets its squeeze down its costs.

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