In our future-obsessed, tech-frenzied world, it’s easy to forget the dominance of Walmart, the undisputed king of the Fortune 500.
Walmart isn’t a unicorn, and it’s no longer sexy. But it is massive. With $482 billion in revenue, it sells more than Apple, Amazon and Microsoft put together, according to Fortune’s annual ranking of companies by revenue, released yesterday (June 6). It’s bigger than the No. 2 company, Exxon Mobil, and No. 3, Apple, combined. Its sales are greater than the GDP of Poland.
While Silicon Valley entrepreneurs search for industries to disrupt, Walmart was the first disrupter and it did it with more ruthless success. Walmart became the world’s biggest retailer by annihilating Main Street–opening massive stores on the edges of small town America, and using its vast purchasing power to undersell the clothing, appliance and dry goods stores that were once the heart of local commerce. It now has 11,500 stores worldwide, and 260 million weekly customers.
As it swallowed up retail, it became one of the globe’s biggest employers. Walmart has more than 1.2 million workers in the US and 2.3 million globally. It’s the third largest employer in the world, trailing only the U.S. Department of Defense and the People’s Liberation Army of China, according to Forbes. The company doesn’t disclose its payroll, but to get a sense of its size, consider that it set aside $2.7 billion when it pledged to raise the wages of its employees to an average, yet still paltry, $13.38 an hour.
Much has been written about the destructive power of Walmart on small towns and salary growth. Its obsession with low prices squeezes its thousands of suppliers, who in turn hold down their wages. And the low wages Walmart pays its associates force many of its employees to rely on public assistance, costing taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion annually, according to Americans for Tax Fairness.
Walmart is changing, slowly. It’s committed to improving its labor practices, and it’s gradually building its online presence. Good thing, because competition is coming: Amazon’s sales are growing at a record clip. The future of shopping may be online, with goods delivered via self-driving cars and drones.
But will be a long time before anyone topples the Walmart goliath.