The NRF Top 50 Global Retailers 2022 is NRF’s annual look, compiled by Kantar Retail, at the 50 most impactful international retailers based on their operations from the start of 2021.
View the complete Top 50 Global Retailers 2022 list.
The second year of the global pandemic challenged global retail in 2021 as it did in 2020. And, just as in 2020, global retail emerged with far more revenue and profit as it managed changes in shopper needs and routines.
Extreme lockdowns still occurred but were more of the exception in most countries even with the onset of the delta and omicron variants. Nations chose to live with COVID-19 as they backed aggressive vaccination programs and encouraged widespread mask use.
The major exception was China, which successfully pursued a zero-COVID-19 policy that called for a rapid response to outbreaks and regional lockdowns. That approach had less impact on retail than expected but was a major factor in the inventory shortages that emerged later in the year. In fact, in many countries, the lack of inventory coupled with the unpredictable supply chain caused more retail disruptions in 2021 than COVID-19 did.
Apparel retail rebounded when malls and shopping districts reopened and flourished with shoppers’ pent-up demand. But retailers that depend on imports struggled to match their 2020 performance. And food retailing was vulnerable not only to logistics slowdowns, but also to shortages in packaging materials such as plastics and aluminum. Labor shortages flared up in most countries in 2021, which hindered many retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and general service levels. However, since inventory and labor issues affected the whole industry, shoppers seemed to accept this new reality and continued to spend, though not at 2020 levels.
Kantar has worked with NRF to produce this ranking of the Top 50 Global Retailers which seeks to maximize discussion, debate, education and exploration opportunities the ranking can provide.
Any comparison of retailers operating in multiple countries is made difficult by currency exchange rates and domestic market strengths that can distort comparisons over time. To minimize these impacts, Kantar’s retailer database is maintained in a retailer’s reported local currency, which has been converted to U.S. dollars using the International Monetary Fund rates database for the assignment of rank points and the construction of this list.
Kantar’s ranking methodology uses a system in which points are given to retailers based on their domestic and international retail revenues. To qualify for the rankings, retailers need to have a direct investment in at least three countries.
Keeping within these guidelines, Walmart continues to be the world’s largest retailer, both domestically and internationally, with a significant commitment to a new online marketplace and fulfillment model. But it faces challenges within the Top 10 from Amazon, Schwarz Group, Aldi and Costco, all of which are tapping into new markets for value shopping. Major Chinese online retailer Alibaba is still among the Top 50 but regulatory changes in its home market have limited its advantages in financial technology.
One note regarding current events: Kantar and NRF are keeping a close eye on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the impacts on global retail. The sales and ranks represented in this publication are an accurate reflection of retailer performance through 2021, but the future remains uncertain. As such, Kantar’s retail experts are closely monitoring the conflict and will continue to provide informed perspectives. Click here for Kantar’s latest analysis.
The top 10 most international
Walmart has balanced restructuring its international portfolio, including divesting from Argentina, with a more robust omnichannel marketplace and in-store services. Leveraging its logistics advantage, it now provides shoppers with a broad range of ways to buy across all platforms. That has created new opportunities with higher-income shoppers that would normally gravitate to Amazon. And Walmart has worked to expand access to online shopping for lower-income groups in the United States and Mexico with value-priced internet access and new financial programs.
Amazon continues to draw strong revenue growth from its U.S. and EU divisions as it pushes into new markets in Latin America and Asia. It has also been rapidly expanding its in-house logistics to meet shopper expectations for rapid and predictable fulfillment. Continued strong results from its AWS cloud group provide a predictable base for capitalization and cash flow to expand new products and services. Amazon is also expanding its physical store network with its new Amazon Fresh banner along with existing Amazon Go stores, both of which use the retailer’s touchless Just Walk Out payment system.
3. Schwarz Group
Through its Lidl and Kaufland banners, the Schwarz Group maintains its foothold as the largest retailer in Europe and fourth largest in the world. As a privately held firm, it has been able to navigate the challenges of funding store growth while ensuring that store remodels continue in Western European markets. At the same time, it has pursued greater online penetration and fulfillment capabilities. U.S. growth has quietly restarted with a smaller format that appears to be doing well in the mid-Atlantic states.
Aldi’s investments in better store experiences and online access supported continued growth in all markets. One of the fastest-growing retailers in the U.S., Aldi has accelerated new store openings in new regions. And as the strongest retailer in Central Europe, it has benefited from stable economies that weathered the pandemic relatively well. Aldi has been quietly finding new markets where it can expand, including China. The company continues to integrate its global sourcing, international logistics and ecommerce operations into a highly standardized model.
International middle-class shoppers found value in Costco’s club model, which fueled growth in all markets. The club’s high member retention rate has created a stable reserve of funds the retailer can use to open new warehouses and expand into ecommerce. Costco is now firmly the second-largest retailer in Canada and continues to expand in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, upsetting stable markets with new shopper expectations for unique products and experiences. Its low SKU count and rotating available product have worked in its favor within the tight international inventory environment. Costco is also reinvesting in services to enhance member value.
6. Ahold Delhaize
As a unified company in the U.S., Ahold of the Netherlands and Delhaize of Belgium had a strong 2021 with refreshed stores and ecommerce sites along with new fulfillment capabilities on the U.S. East Coast. It has re-established its value banners in both the U.S. and Europe with an improved store experience, stronger shopper messaging and better-integrated loyalty apps. Ahold Delhaize in Europe continues to leverage best-in-class smaller grocery stores with an effective real estate strategy. Online grocery in the U.S. and Europe accounted for almost all the revenue improvement in both markets. A joint venture in Indonesia showed new growth going into 2022.
Carrefour posted better-than-expected growth in Brazil and Argentina. The retailer’s cash-and-carry “atacado” format continues to be its largest growth engine in those markets. Its purchase of the former Walmart stores owned by Advent International has expanded its positioning throughout key regions of Brazil. However, its attempt to purchase Grupo Pão de Açúcar, which would have given it almost 60 percent of the retail market in Brazil, fell through. Elsewhere, its European operations are doing well, with almost all revenue growth coming from online retail and greater volume coming from the small express pantry stores.
Ikea reopened in all markets in 2021 for shoppers looking for home furnishings in strong housing markets. However, its dependence on international logistics to move specially designed product from manufacturing to stores limited the retailer’s growth. Despite out-of-stocks in stores and higher prices to cover new supply costs, Ikea remained the No. 1 retailer for a population moving to new apartments and homes. The retailer is now starting to expand into Latin America with new stores in Mexico and Chile.
9. Seven & I
Breaking into the Top 10 for the first time, Seven & I operates or franchises 79,000 stores in 19 countries. Most of its stores are 7-Eleven convenience stores in the U.S. and Japan. It also operates a range of superstore, department store and small grocery formats in Asia. 7-Eleven U.S. became much larger with the purchase of the Speedway chain for convenience gas stores. And ecommerce sales have grown in all markets with the new 7Now concept being launched in the U.S. Its private label program continues to expand into new product lines, including meal solutions and cosmetics.
10. The Home Depot
The Home Depot is the largest home improvement retailer in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The retailer’s double-digit growth in 2021 was surprising on top of equally large increases in 2020. The housing markets in all three countries drove these numbers as shoppers improved their homes, both inside and out. And The Home Depot was able to capture more of the critical pro (contractor) segment that drives revenue growth in this channel. Long-term investments in ecommerce, omnichannel integration with stores and fulfillment continued to pay off across all categories.
Just missing the international cut
Several retailers that fell slightly short of the Top 10 will likely challenge for a spot next year, but some were also affected by new regulatory uncertainties in the fast-growing China market. That was the case with Alibaba, which made last year’s Top 10 but missed the cut this time as it struggles to come to terms with changes to its financial and logistics divisions. Tencent and JD.com have almost had to reposition their business strategies for the same reason. We expect they will grow in 2022 within the new rules.
Strategies for growth
We also expect retailers in other markets to become more innovative and explore new business models that will make them more competitive in the future. Here are some examples of new ideas and new ways to generate excitement in retail.
Easy access and small-format retail
Of the remaining 40 retailers on the Top 50 list, a number shifted rankings in 2021 due to shoppers looking for easier access and value. They include the convenience chains A.S. Watson in China, Hong Kong-based Dairy Farm, Japan’s Family Mart and Canada-based Couche-Tard (usually under the Circle K banner). All grew organically or by way of acquisition.
Small pantry grocery formats also did well in multiple markets for Tesco, Auchan, Casino and Spar International, all of which continued to open stores in existing markets. Discounters such as Jerónimo Martins’ Ara in Colombia and U.S. chains Dollar General and Dollar Tree continued to grow sales and store count.
Retailers that did not shift position, including Walgreens Boots Alliance, Germany’s Rewe and Japan’s Aeon mix of formats, and apparel retailer Fast Retailing (parent company of Uniqlo), all held their own in the markets where they compete. Each found new ways to engage shoppers with new omnichannel solutions, especially for smartphones.
Casino, Metro AG and Falabella invested significantly in omnichannel and integrating services and fulfillment across multiple groups. At the same time, these retailers are re-evaluating each market to shape their 2022 investment strategies.
Tencent owns no retail units of its own but enables other industries, including retail partners JD.com and Walmart along with thousands of small startups on social media within the Chinese market. Rakuten, Mercado Libre and eBay all continue to innovate well beyond their original business models into new retail initiatives and international markets. The growth of extended marketplaces by all major retailers has complicated the market view as they continue to cross channel borders into new product and service offerings.
Regional and local focus
Several regional retailers are noteworthy for their operational excellence, including home improvement companies Lowe’s, Adeo Group and Kingfisher. Electronics specialists like Ceconomy (owner of Media Markt/Saturn), Best Buy and Euronics continue to operate successfully in a tough channel that competes directly with local and global pure-play companies.
Department store chains in all countries continue to lose overall share, though most had a burst of sales in the summer when most countries relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. The hypermart channel has also stopped growing as retailers have responded to shopper needs for proximity and convenience. Retailers in this channel have been replaced by cash-and-carry concepts in some markets.
Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, investment in store networks will clearly return with a large number of remodels and a limited number of new store openings. In-store digital technology like smart shelving and frictionless purchases are expected to be a major competitive differentiator. Omnichannel access is expanding to lower-income groups, which can be a major game changer in Latin America and Africa. Greater use of small autonomous vehicles for fulfillment at a time of limited staffing is already evident in cities and on campuses. Next year’s evaluations will be based more on how well new formats address changed shopper needs and the success of global procurement strategies.