Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wal-Mart's Next Conquest: Latin America

Last May, Michael Bergdahl, former director of human resources at Wal-Mart, told the First Global Forum on Customer Service in Santiago, Chile, “Our strategy of low prices has become a competitive advantage for us. So long as our competition focuses on how much they can get for their products, we focus on how little we can get for ours.” According to Bergdahl, this strategy generated revenues of about US$13 billion in 2007, and in 2008, “we open a new store each day, and each week, 176 million customers buy from our stores.”

This year, disruptions from the global financial crisis have forced retailers to discard their earnings forecasts and alter their plans for investment and expansion. Nevertheless, Wal-Mart has emerged unscathed, and has even continued to grow. In February, the company announced its results for 2008, during which it registered US$13.4 billion in income -- an increase of 5.2% from 2007. That’s quite an achievement in times like these.

Taking advantage of its strong performance in Brazil and Mexico, Wal-Mart has now undertaken the massive task of conquering the rest of Latin America. The company announced that this year, it will open stores in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile and Puerto Rico.

For Claudio Aqueveque, a professor at the business school of Adolfo Ibáñez University in Chile, the current recession represents an opportunity for Wal-Mart. “The problems our region is facing this year will lead to major changes in the behavior of consumers, associated with a greater sensitivity to price; and this means tuning in to [Wal-Mart’s] low-price strategy.”

Read the full story originally published Mar 25, 2009 at Wharton.

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