The Top 50 Global Retailers is a fresh look at the 50 most impactful international retailers based on their operations from the start of 2022.
View the complete Top 50 Global Retailers 2023 list.
The Top 50 Global Retailers contended with another year of unusual markets created by the pandemic. Even as most countries decided to live with COVID-19 and scaled back the number of the extreme lockdowns that distorted retail in 2021, outbreaks of new variants still disrupted key retail seasons.
Overall, retail sales and profits grew due to changes in shoppers’ needs and routines. China continued to be the major exception as it pursued its zero-COVID policy with rapid regional lockdowns in response to outbreaks. By the end of 2022, however, China had relaxed this policy, a change likely to be felt more in 2023.
In many countries, lack of inventory and unpredictable supply chains limited retail in 2022, but the bigger issue was labor. The severe retail labor shortage in most regions impacted not only in-store services (including pharmacies), but also warehouse management and logistics. The shortage forced many retailers to reduce opening hours and limit merchandising innovations. Self-checkout became more widespread in response to the lack of store workers.
Global inflation had its greatest impact on consumables sold in hypermarkets, supermarkets and value retailers. Apparel retailers continued to improve, though at much slower rates than they did in 2021. In addition, their reliance on offshore manufacturing made inventory unpredictable. While malls and shopping districts failed to drive new growth for smaller retail tenants, they did not fall back to 2019 lows.
All of retail was vulnerable not only to logistics slowdowns, but also to ongoing shortages of packaging materials such as wood pulp, plastics, glass and aluminum that were in short supply throughout the year.
The Russia-Ukraine war that broke out in February 2022 destabilized many markets, especially the Middle East and Africa that rely on Ukraine for grain and fertilizer. But as the year went on, new sources of supply helped mitigate most of that disruption. Another heightened concern was cybersecurity as hackers attempted to access retailers’ data and demand ransom. In response, most retailers redirected some funds meant for new stores and remodels to protect their assets.
Any comparison of retailers operating in multiple countries is made difficult by currency exchange rates. In addition, retailer rankings are normally created using reported consolidated revenues, which dilute the impact that joint ventures, franchises and marketplaces can have on helping retailers internationalize. Finally, most retailers generate the bulk of their sales from domestic operations, allowing those with the biggest domestic markets to appear to have the largest international operations, which is not always the case.
Kantar has worked with NRF to produce this ranking of the Top 50 Global Retailers to maximize the discussion, debate, education and exploration opportunities the ranking can provide.
Kantar’s ranking methodology uses a system that awards points to retailers based on their domestic and international retail revenues. To qualify for the ranking, retailers need to have a direct investment in at least three countries.
In alignment with Kantar’s Retail IQ methodology, only retail revenues determined ranking points. As the largest global retailers continue to expand outside of retail revenues, this list now focuses only on retail-specific revenues.
Most retailers in Kantar’s scope of coverage operate in the food, drug and mass merchandise channels. To offer users a robust view of global retail trends, Kantar also covers retail leaders across all channels globally, but not exhaustively.
Keeping within these guidelines, Walmart continues to be the world’s largest retailer, both domestically and internationally, with significant commitments to a new online marketplace and fulfillment model. But within the Top 50, Walmart faces challenges from Amazon, Schwarz Group, Aldi and Costco, all of which are tapping into new markets for value shopping. The major Chinese online player Alibaba is still in the overall group but has struggled due to changes in China’s regulatory environment that have limited the company’s advantages in financial technology.
The top 10 most international
Walmart has managed stronger growth in fewer markets after divesting from Japan, Brazil, Argentina, the United Kingdom and South Africa. It has done so with relatively little store growth but with a strong online marketplace and a range of new financial solutions for its shoppers. These new tools make shopping online for lower-income shoppers a reality and provide new ways for them to manage their budgets. Walmart’s large retail media platform also contributed significantly to the 2022 bottom line. In addition, Walmart leveraged its core logistics capabilities to offset some of the supply chain issues that were an ongoing concern elsewhere in the industry. Finally, online growth and new loyalty programs from Walmart Canada and Mexico contributed to overall growth.
In 2022, Amazon responded to pressure from investors to generate more revenue from its retail divisions by evaluating costs and its product and services portfolio. While the company’s growth was slightly less than it was in the explosive years of 2020 and 2021, in most markets, especially in the United States and European Union, growth was still in the double digits. Incremental growth came from new markets in Latin America and Asia as well as from stores with the launch of Amazon Fresh. Amazon expanded its fulfillment and logistics services globally to respond to shoppers’ expectations for rapid and predictable fulfillment. And continued strong results from the AWS cloud group provided a predictable base for capitalization and cash flow to expand new product and service areas. In addition, Amazon’s retail media platform contributed significantly to the company’s operating margins throughout the year.
3. Schwarz Group
The Schwarz Group continues to be Europe’s largest retailer and the fourth largest in the world. Its Lidl and Kaufland banners give it a predictable brand that it has expanded across Europe. As a privately held firm, Schwarz Group has been able to navigate the challenges of funding store growth while broadening store remodels, online penetration and fulfillment capabilities in its Western European markets. U.S. growth continues with a small-format limited-assortment grocery that appears to be doing well in the mid-Atlantic states.
Aldi’s quiet growth continues globally as it reinvests in better store experiences and online access. During 2022, Aldi remained one of the fastest-growing retailers in the U.S. as it accelerated new store openings in underserved regions. And as the strongest retailer in Central Europe, it has benefited from stable economies that weathered the pandemic relatively well. The retailer’s growth in the U.K. and Australia has disrupted market and shopper expectations for value from a discount format. The company continues to integrate its global sourcing, international logistics and ecommerce operations into a highly standardized model.
Many Costco members turned to the retailer in 2020 and 2021 to weather the pandemic, and in 2022, over 90% of Costco members renewed their memberships. Costco’s club model kept growing, along with the retailer’s value to international middle-class shoppers, which fueled growth in all markets. Costco is now firmly the second-largest retailer in Canada and continues to expand in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe, upsetting stable markets with new shopper expectations for unique products and experiences. In response to members’ needs, Costco moved into online sales that have fueled incrementality. Its low SKU count along with cycling of available product (or SKUs) have worked in its favor given tight international inventory. Costco is reinvesting in services to keep driving member value.
6. Ahold Delhaize
In 2022, the unified company in the U.S. — Ahold of the Netherlands and Delhaize of Belgium — posted strong performance from refreshed stores, ecommerce sites and new fulfillment capabilities on the U.S. East Coast. Its value banners have been an integral part of the retailer’s ongoing growth in the U.S. and Europe with an improved in-store experience, stronger shopper messaging and better-integrated loyalty apps. Ahold Delhaize in Europe continues to leverage best-in-class smaller grocery stores combined with an effective real estate strategy. Online grocery was largely responsible for improved revenue in the retailer’s U.S. and European markets. In 2022, the company established a strong portfolio of stores with digital integration for future growth.
Carrefour has a winner in its cash-and-carry “atacado” format that continues to be the retailer’s largest growth engine in Latin America. Most of the former Walmart stores owned by Advent International that Carrefour purchased were successfully reformatted to the atacado format. Elsewhere, Carrefour’s European operations are doing well with almost all revenue growth coming from online retail and greater volume from small express stores. Carrefour is also expanding its retail media capabilities in all markets as another area of revenue growth.
8. Seven & I
The majority of Seven & I’s holdings are in the 7-Eleven convenience banner in the U.S. and Japan. The 80,000-store retailer became even larger when it acquired the Speedway convenience gas chain in the U.S. Seven & I operates a range of superstore, department store and small grocery formats in Asia, although it is shifting some of its larger stores to a discount format. Its 7Now ecommerce and fulfillment division has spread throughout the U.S. and into Japan. The retailer is also expanding globally into travel retail.
9. The Home Depot
The Home Depot has benefited since 2020 when COVID forced everyone to stay home more and shoppers started investing in their homes as a result. The largest home improvement retailer in the U.S., Canada and Mexico continued to grow sales in 2022 with a mix of do-it-yourself and pro (contractor) shoppers. A loyalty program well targeted to the business-to-business needs of pro shoppers who drive channel revenue growth helped the retailer capture more of that critical shopper base. The Home Depot is widely regarded as best in class when it comes to integrating ecommerce and digital tools for DIY and pro shoppers.
Ikea was well placed in 2022 to be the go-to home furnishings retailer in all markets as shoppers looked to fulfill more at-home needs. But Ikea found its growth limited by its dependence on international logistics to move specially designed products from manufacturers to stores. The retailer reacted by finding new sources and designs that worked better within the new supply chain and was able to retain its share of shoppers in most markets. Ikea is still the top retailer for those moving to new apartments and homes in most countries and major cities. The retailer’s Latin America expansion continues with new stores in Mexico and Chile.
Overall, the Top 10 retailers did not change in 2022 from 2021. Retailers in the fast-growing Chinese market have been underperforming as they manage the extremes of COVID lockdowns along with regulatory uncertainties. While signs suggest the government may change these limitations, Alibaba underperformed in 2022 relative to 2019 due to changes in its financial and logistics divisions. Tencent was encouraged to divest divisions and JD.com repositioned its business strategies for the same reason.
Just missing the international cut
Shoppers who were seeking greater value and product availability in 2022 caused additional shifts among the remaining 40 retailers on the Top 50 list.
Vertically integrated apparel companies such as Inditex did well in most markets, though H&M and Fast Retailing contended with new product-line introductions.
Shoppers in 2022 repeatedly said they needed more convenience from retailers. Hong Kong-based A.S. Watson and Dairy Farm, Japan’s Family Mart and Canada-based Couche-Tard (usually under the Circle K banner) all were able to fulfill that demand.
In urban markets, small pantry grocery formats operated by Tesco, Auchan, Casino and Spar International did well. All of these retailers continued to open stores in existing markets. Jerónimo Martins, known for its discount formats in Colombia and Poland, also opened a chain of large atacado stores in Colombia.
Some retailers, particularly Auchan, lost share in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Walgreens Boots Alliance held its position, though took steps to sell off assets at the end of 2022. Due to their mix of formats, Germany’s Rewe and Japan’s Aeon were able to hold their own in the markets where they compete. Each found new ways to engage shoppers with new omnichannel solutions, especially for smartphones.
Casino continued to do well in Latin America but has found other markets more challenging. Chilean retailers continued to expand into new markets, with Falabella opening home improvement stores in Mexico and Cencosud buying Fresh Market in the U.S. All have made significant investments in omnichannel and integrated financial services across multiple groups.
Even though the electronic resale business peaked in early 2022, global retailers were able to stabilize their businesses and attract shoppers during the holiday season. Apple did well despite major manufacturing issues in China. Best Buy, Ceconomy and Euronics all experienced small sales drops but held their positions in the Top 50.
Tencent owns no retail unit of its own but enables other industries, including retail partners JD.com and Walmart along with thousands of small Chinese startups on social media. Rakuten, Mercado Libre and eBay all continued 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 view of the market as retailers cross channel borders into new product and service offerings.
Based on what Kantar saw at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, expect more investment in store merchandising, a large number of remodels and limited new store openings. In-store digital technology like smart shelving and frictionless purchases should be a major competitive differentiator. Omnichannel is still a growth area but with more emphasis on store integration and enablement. All channels will need to address labor shortages with greater automation across their entire store networks, while offering shoppers more tools to find and buy products seamlessly. Autonomous vehicles will continue their slow but steady growth in urban areas and on college campuses.
In 2023, expect more movement in the retail rankings as the market changes to respond to these realities.