"Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" Correspondent Hedrick Smith examines the power of Wal-Mart and other mass retailer chains, as the world's gateway to the American consumer.
During the last two decades, Wal-Mart has been able to take advantage of the rise of information technology and the explosion of the global economy to change the balance of power in the business world. Here, Edna Bonacich, professor of sociology; Jon Lehman, a former Wal-Mart store manager; Nelson Lichtenstein, professor of history; Ray Bracy, Wal-Mart's vice president for federal and international public affairs; Gary Gereffi, professor of sociology; and Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council offer details on how Wal-Mart exploited these two forces to become the world's largest company.
From the beginning, Sam Walton and Wal-Mart focused on buying goods as cheaply as possible, which often meant buying imports. Here is an examination of the history of Wal-Mart's procurement practices in Asia and China -- even through its own "Buy American" promotional campaign in the 1980s and 1990s -- and the prognosis for the future.
Here is a closer look at how Sam Walton's focus on the "opening price point" and Wal-Mart's successful high-stakes technological bets -- including developing its own distribution network and software system -- revolutionized the relationship between suppliers and retailers.
How Wal-Mart capitalized on the humble bar code -- and caused a shift in the balance of power between manufacturers and suppliers. Plus, a closer look at the retailer's plans to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for even greater efficiency.
Before the late 1990s, Wal-Mart tended to stay out of politics. By 2004, it was one of the nation's biggest corporate contributors. Here's a look at Wal-Mart's relatively recent arrival in the nation's capital, and whom they're giving to.
Wal-Mart has a footprint in every corner of America and stores in nine foreign countries. Here is a look at Wal-Mart's worldwide locations as of Jan. 31, 2004.
Here are some stats and facts that capture Wal-Mart's size and scale.
Bracy is Wal-Mart's vice president for federal and international public affairs. In this interview, he describes how the company turned to global sourcing as far back as the 1970s to obtain merchandise at the low costs so the company could pass the savings on to consumers. He estimates that Wal-Mart imports approximately $15 billion in goods from China each year. Bracy argues that by being candid and negotiating with its suppliers to get merchandise at the lowest possible cost, Wal-Mart is helping its suppliers become more efficient. "I think most [suppliers] that I've heard from will say that we are tough, that we're demanding, but they also say we're fair," he tells FRONTLINE. Bracy argues that U.S. manufacturers are being squeezed by the high costs of doing business in America, including health care, tax rates and government regulations, that are beyond Wal-Mart's control, and he maintains that the company has an obligation to provide its consumers with low prices.
Lehman worked for Wal-Mart for 17 years, managing six stores in four different states before he left the company in 2001 to work for a union trying to organize Wal-Mart employees. In this interview, he recounts how he became disillusioned with the company's focus on profit, and why he feels that the current management has strayed from the principles of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Lehman also describes how Wal-Mart developed its efficient supply chain, how Wal-Mart's buyers negotiate with manufacturers to drive down costs, and when he first noticed Wal-Mart's importing low-cost goods from China.
Wal-Mart's corporate Web site has more information about the company's history, growth and culture; its annual report and other investor information; and Wal-Mart's statements on its stance on controversial issues, such as gun sales, sweatshop allegation, and unions.
This transcript, from the PBS series Tavis Smiley, features a rare interview with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, in which he addresses some of the criticisms against the company, and discusses how Wal-Mart tries to keep the "small-town Bentonville, Ark." culture while being the world's largest company.
The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for this series of articles on the tactics that have made Wal-Mart the largest company in the world and the company's cascading effects across American towns and developing countries.