No matter how fast you swim, it's hard to survive when you're the little fish. This is all the more true when you're a tiny retailer in a sea of sharks. And, apparently, it's the most true when those waters are choppy, storm-tossed and generally inhospitable. OK, enough with the extended metaphor. The point, according to Planet Retail's latest assessment of annual revenues, is that in these trying times, the big fish are winning. Ranked by revenues, Wal-Mart Stores ( WMT), unsurprisingly, once again nabbed the No. 1 slot on the STORES Top 100 list.
With more than $405 billion in sales, the big-box retailer has been able to attract shoppers who are trading down for lower prices, especially with the re-launch of its Great Value line. And Wal-Mart has been careful not to replay it's move a few years ago, when it tried to win shoppers with higher-end merchandise that didn't stay true to its message of "Save More. Live Better." This tactic has actually hurt retailers like Target ( TGT), which relies heavily on trendy apparel and home furnishing to drive sales, two of the weakest categories. The company comes in at No. 5 on the list, with sales of nearly $65 billion, aided by the addition of a larger grocery section. Wal-Mart has even been taking market share from grocers, helping to push Supervalu ( SVU) out of its top 10 position. Kroger ( KR), on the other hand, jumped to the No. 2 spot this year from No. 4 last year, as it was able to capture shoppers who, last summer when gas prices peaked, were looking to buy both groceries and non-food items in the same shopping trip to save at the pump.
Costco Wholesale ( COST) is also benefiting from the discount mentality, moving up two slots from last year to No. 3 this year, but its general merchandise side has been a drag on business. Costco has been forced to close two Costco Home stores, which are devoted entirely to home furnishings. Pharmacy sales have been boosting drugstores, leaving Walgreen ( WAG) and CVS Caremark ( CVS) in the No. 6 and No.7 spots, respectively. But these chains are seeing weakness in discretionary front-end items like cosmetics and hair care. Clearly it's all about the supercenter, dollar store and discount grocers, leaving apparel and accessories chains to fend for themselves. Indeed, a true apparel retailer doesn't actually appear on the list until the No. 14 slot, where Macy's ( M) resides. (Granted, Sears ( SHLD) did slide in at No. 9, but the department store is better known for its auto parts and appliances then apparel.) Some of the better performing apparel retailers were off-pricer TJX ( TJX) at No. 20, J.C. Penney ( JCP) at No. 21 and Kohl's ( KSS) at No. 24. While the home-furnishing retailers did manage to make it into the top 10, with Home Depot ( HD) at No. 4 and Lowe's ( LOW) at No. 8, the segment is headed for a third straight year of declines amid the depressed housing market. Best Buy ( BBY) rounds out the top 10, benefiting from sales of new Apple iPhones and video game consoles like Wii and Playstation, but feeling some pain on big-ticket items like flat-screen TVs. One point worth noting: Even for the big fish, the gains have been relative. Wal-Mart, for one, was actually limited to a single-digit sales increase. So even the Giant Killer Whale of revenue is on something of a diet.