January 09, 2003
Wal-Mart wants to buy some banks

I caught the end of an interesting discussion about Wal-Mart's decision to offer cheap financial services (registration required) on Kudlow and Kramer last night.

The commentators had it right. Competitors have consistently lost out by underestimating Wal-Mart. K-Mart went into bankrupcy trying to compete with Wal-Mart on price. (well, that wasn't the only reason). If Wal-Mart gets into in-store financial services, they would give everyone a run for their money.

Wal-Mart is one of the very few retailers that are opening a number of new stores this year (the linked page probably won't be available until next week unless you are a subscriber to the print edition). It is also one of the few retailers that has consistently been on the vanguard (pdf file) of technology innovations that has revolutionized the retailing landscape in the United States in the last 15 years. And they learn fast. Not so long ago, their e-business initiative was sputtering. An acquaintance of mine consulted for the team that was putting up the Wal-Mart e-commerce site in '99. The business managers were apparently clueless about how e-tailing works. The version they were working on wasn't up by Christmas. Wal-Mart made them work through Christmas. Now BusinessWeek has Fleming saying that the "site will be profitable ahead of plan -- though he won't say by when".

I have a lot of admiration for the discipline, agility and innovative leadership of the company. Yet I hardly find anyone in the industry who actually likes the company. The requirements for doing business and the bare knuckles burgaining turns off the suppliers (yeah, they haul you through coal). The competitors of course don't like them. They seem to inculcate a cult like devotion in their employees that made even 'The Economist' uneasy. And when they set up shop in the subarbs it hurts the small businesses which doesn't exactly make them popular in a lot of quarters. But shoppers like me love their prices and their range. And at the end of the day that's all that counts.

Posted by Kaushik at January 09, 2003 07:26 AM | TrackBack
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