- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Retailer attempts to match rivals

PLANO, Texas (Bloomberg) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, is opening a store here to test whether customers will fill their shopping carts with pricey imported cheeses, vintage wines and trendy clothes along with paper towels and pet food.

The new supercenter in Plano, near Dallas, will carry more upscale items, including 1,200 types of wine and an extensive selection of cheeses, spokesman Martin Heires said last week.

The store opens today and will feature more space around merchandise displays to make shopping easier.

Wal-Mart is selling new products and revamping stores to catch up with competitors, including Target Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp., that are winning customers with exclusive brands.

The company is renovating 1,800 U.S. stores in the next 18 months, improving displays of higher-end merchandise such as electronics and home goods, and upgrading store bathrooms.

“We’re just looking to see what works,” spokeswoman Gail Lavielle said of the Plano store.

The changes are “based on a lot of research we’ve done on how do people like to shop and what do we bring them to improve their store experience,” she said.

Sales at stores open at least a year grew 3.4 percent compared with 5.6 percent at Minneapolis retailer Target, which offers designer items such as an Isaac Mizrahi black sateen strapless dress for $40. Lower-margin groceries outsold general merchandise at Wal-Mart in 42 of 52 weeks during the year ended Jan. 27.

Wal-Mart also plans to carry more than 400 organic foods in the next quarter, Stephen Quinn, a senior vice president of marketing, said at a March 8 conference in New York hosted by Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc.

A new advertising campaign aims to get shoppers to buy items such as clothing, electronics and home goods, using the slogan “Look beyond the basics.”

The campaign features shoppers who make big-ticket purchases such as backyard furniture sets after visiting the store for small items such as salsa and lipstick.

Shares of Wal-Mart rose 35 cents to $48.11 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange. Before yesterday, they have fallen 6.7 percent in the past year.

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