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Walmart Believes The Time Is Right for Japan

Walmart Stores Inc. is expanding its presence in Japan for the first time since 2008, citing an opportunity as increases in the population of the working poor that they believe will start a trend toward thrift there.

Walmart Stores, Inc. is planning 22 new stores in Japan in the next two years, as well as looking for acquisitions to enlarge its 368-store presence. Japan is the second largest consumer market in the world.

The retailer has faced challenges in Japan, after arriving a decade ago through a partnership with Seiyu Ltd., a a troubled national grocery chain. Japanese shoppers have been described as finicky, a consumer group who often times thinks of discounts to mean poor quality. Thus, they were slow to embrace the retailer's methods of offering low prices and broad merchandise selection.

The retailer has created special products to cater to the aging Japanese population; one of its most popular products is a "298-Yen Bento," a single-serve, freshly prepared meal that sells for about $4 and is tailored to "someone on a pension with limited funds," Mr. Dacus said.

The changes are winning over shoppers like Zengo Namioka, a 74-year-old pensioner, who shopped for bread and milk at a new Seiyu discount store 20 miles south of Tokyo on a recent afternoon.

Mr. Namioka said he and his wife spend carefully to make their limited money last every month, and that Seiyu's prices would help offset the impact of a new increase in Japan's consumption tax, which is rising from 5% to 10% by 2015.

"It's helpful the store is now nearby," he added, noting that the town's only grocery store closed three years ago as the area's birthrate declined and its population dwindled. Aging residents of the area had to climb hills to buy food in the nearest store.

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