Walmart embodies the American ideal that bigger is better. The company’s supercenters — sprawling hypermarkets that offer everything from groceries to tire maintenance — are an extension of that logic. But even those hypermarkets are dwarfed by Walmart’s Albany, New York, supercenter, which remains one of the biggest Walmarts in the world.
Walmart Takes Over Sam’s Club
With its two floors of merchandise, shopping cart escalators, and nearly 260,000 square feet of space, the complex is the largest Walmart in the U.S. But before 2008, when the mega Walmart opened its doors, the Crossgates Commons location housed a Sam’s Club and a Walmart. The latter of the two cannibalized the Walmart-owned warehouse store to create one of the largest retail stores in the U.S., employing about 360 associates, according to Walmart.
“For most people who come in, it's an extremely unique experience,” said Dwayne Hazel, the store’s manager, in an interview with Walmart. “If we catch them on the front end, and they ask where pet supplies are and we send them to an escalator, their jaw drops.”
The Rise of the Hypermarket
While you may not have heard of hypermarkets before (it’s a French loan word), you’ve likely shopped at one. Simply put, a hypermarket combines a department and grocery store, offering everything from clothing and appliances to baked goods and meat. Retailers often build these one-stop shopping centers in the suburbs, where transportation options are limited.
According to Investopedia, the first U.S. hypermarket opened in Portland, Oregon, in 1930, combining a supermarket, pharmacy, and clothing store. Today, membership-only warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club dominate the hypermarket industry with their vast array of products and massive store footprints.
Walmart Supercenters, first established in 1998, are cast in the same mold. Though supercenters average 187,000 square feet, Walmart’s Albany location is nearly 40% larger.
That said, you’ll find the world’s largest Walmart abroad.
The World’s Largest Walmart
Information about the retailer’s international locations remains limited (at least in English), but multiple sources have confirmed that Walmart’s biggest stores are in China. In 2016, Walmart opened a 1.2 million-square-foot shopping center in Zhuhai, a modern city in the country’s Guangdong province. To give you an idea of how massive that is, know that it’s about eight times larger than the average Costco.
Today, Walmart operates more than 10,500 stores around the globe, with a total of 1.7 million employees. Though its success as a company seems ubiquitous, the U.S. retailer hasn’t prospered everywhere.
After a decade of trying to establish itself in Germany, the Bentonville-based retailer gave up on the country in 2006, losing $1 billion. The problems were cultural. Not only did Germans find chipper American customer service strange, but the retailer also failed to establish a relationship with German labor unions.
“They didn’t understand that in Germany, companies and unions are closely connected,” said labor union leader Hans-Martin Poschmann in an interview with the New York Times. “Bentonville didn’t want to have anything to do with unions. They thought we were communists.”
Walmart's latest international venture is in Africa, where the company purchased a majority stake in the South African retailer Massmart. But like its expansion to Germany, Walmart is facing significant headwinds, though it plans to stay the course by expanding e-commerce.