Nimble technology is key for global retailers seeking to gain traction in new markets abroad, Luke McCollum, director of information systems, Wal-Mart Stores, told retail and technology executives at the Retail Technology Summit in Tokyo last month.

McCollum, who lived in Japan for more than two years to absorb the culture and observe local shopping behavior, said Japanese consumers value fresh fish more than shoppers in other parts of the world. “So we put technology behind it,” he said, referring to sourcing and logistics investments Wal-Mart has made since entering the country in 2002. The Bentonville, Ark., company owns a 42 percent interest in Seiyu, a major chain that sells apparel, general merchandise and food.

Localizing product assortment is important for Wal-Mart as it builds its presence in other countries, McCollum said. Nurturing consumer awareness locally and creating the “one-stop-shopping phenomenon” are also top priorities.

Tech employees are expected to understand how systems perform day-to-day in stores. “Our programmers go to the sales floor and see if the system works,” McCollum said. “When they find any problems, they go back to the office and correct the system.”

Wal-Mart became an international company in 1991, when a Sam’s Club opened near Mexico City. Just two years later, Wal-Mart International was created to oversee the growing opportunities for the company worldwide. Today, Wal-Mart International operates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.

McCollum said a global company seeking to expand must be financially healthy in order to invest in training, share best practices collected from around the world and establish global systems and processes.

“Wal-Mart is not considered a winner in the market yet,” said an attendee who heads up materials sourcing for one of the major national chains in Japan. “We will wait and see.”

This story first appeared in the October 12, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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