Wal-mart Stores, Inc. is the world's largest retailer. In the fiscal year ending January 31, 2001 Wal-mart had $191 billion dollars in sales. It employees over 1 million people wordwide and operates 4,500 retail units in 10 countries. Wal-mart operates in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, China, Korea, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-mart, opened the first Wal-mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962.
Wal-mart stores are large in area, usually constructed as part of shopping malls in low-density suburban centres. The stores contain a broad range of products, from clothes through consumer electronics, outdoor equipment, toys, hardware, and books, as well as many other lines. Staffing is low, with most purchases simply being brought to supermarket-style cashier lanes on shopping trolleys, and the expertise of the staff in the products they sell is variable at best. The products it sells are usually basic, mass-market equipment rather than premium products stocked at specialist stores.
The key to Wal-mart's success is the economies of scale it brings to manufacturing and logistics, buying massive quantities of items from its suppliers and with a very efficient stock control system to make logistics costs lower than its competitors. As well as this, its sheer size gives it the ability to discount, selling at a loss until competitors run out of resources, at which point its monopoly position allows it to raise prices. It is regularly accused of such tactics (which are illegal in some jurisdictions), and is disliked by others because the homogeneity in retailing it symbolises. Others refute the figures, stating that Wal-mart's prices remain low even where it has a monopoly, and view the complaints about homogeneity as impractical sentimentality. Other criticisms of Wal-Mart include its alleged propensity to kill off all competition from local stores, then shut down its stores in smaller towns, leaving residents of those areas no choice but to drive long distances to purchase essential items.