Wal-Mart Said Mulling Smaller Formats, Including Healthcare Store

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Speculation continues to mount that Wal-Mart is studying new formats, the latest round fed by a report in the Wall Street Journal last week claiming the retailer is prepared to test two new small-footprint formats in early 2008: a smaller, urban, convenience-type store that could go head to head with Tesco's new Fresh and Easy format in the West; and a stand-alone store dedicated to health services and products.

Wal-Mart has a team of executives based in the San Francisco Bay area plumbing the new concepts, according to the newspaper article, quoting unnamed sources. David Wild, Wal-Mart's s.v.p. of new business development, is reportedly leading the initiatives.

Wal-Mart sources would not confirm the plans, instead offering neutral comments about the company's "constantly evolving" approach and how it is "always looking for new and innovative ways to serve [its] customers."

The urban stores would reportedly be less than a tenth of the size of the company’s supercenters which typically are about 200,000 square feet; and would be stocked with groceries that appeal to more affluent consumers. This would seem to depart substantially from the company’s own stated mandate, expressed by Wal-Mart’s own top executives during a second quarter conference call last week, to adhere to its historically strong position as a price leader in its many U.S. markets.

The healthcare stores, meanwhile, supposedly would provide a variety of services and home-health equipment, as well as the prescription eyeglasses and pharmaceuticals that Wal-Mart currently sells, sources said.

Like many other food and mass retailers, Wal-Mart is already getting into the in-store health clinic business. The retailer has said that over the next three years it plans to open up to 400 in-store clinics.
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