Off Brand

Walmart Fooled Us Into Believing It’s an Underdog

The retail behemoth actually sold $523 billion last year — way more than Amazon

Rob Walker
Published in
4 min readOct 8, 2020


Photo illustration, source: Alan Schein Photography/Getty Images

Amazon vs. Walmart has developed into one of the great rivalries in business history. And the coverage of this epic retail slugfest makes it clear who is leading, and who is following.

Amazon has an “embarrassingly huge lead in e-commerce,” as Recode recently put it, and Walmart is desperate to close that gap. It famously acquired for $3.3 billion a few years back to jump-start its e-commerce efforts (and more recently wound down the brand and folded it into Walmart’s digital operations). Earlier this year it announced Walmart+, a $98-a-year membership program offering free delivery and discounts on gas, in what was widely interpreted as a belated response to Amazon Prime.

Walmart logged overall sales of $523 billion last year, more than any other company in the world.

It inserted itself into the deal to take a stake in viral-video platform TikTok, for reasons that have not been spelled out but presumably involve a doubling down on digital commerce. And most recently, it has struck deals with a handful of drone companies to explore their delivery potential, “as it races to play catch-up with Amazon,” which has been trying to live up to dubious drone-delivery promises it’s been making for years, according to CNBC.

The bottom line is that by some estimates Amazon owns close to 40% of U.S. retail e-commerce — so much that House lawmakers are calling for it to be broken up. Walmart accounts for a mere 5%.

But before you get too worried about Walmart’s prospects, here’s a reminder that it has another channel: 5,300 U.S. stores, counting its Sam’s Club subsidiary. As the company enjoys pointing out, an estimated 90% of U.S. residents live within 10 miles of one of its stores.