BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart wants to know: in the world of mass-market retailing, can big things come in small packages?
The stores, which reportedly will be built here, where Wal-Mart is based, in Springdale and in Sherwood, will be 40,000 square feet and will offer a scaled-back selection of grocery items and general merchandise, as well as drive-through pharmacies.
In contrast, Wal-Mart's traditional discount stores are about 90,000 square feet. Its largest supercenters are more than 200,000 square feet.
The new units, described as "experimental" by company officials, are viewed as potentially giving Wal-Mart entree to markets, such as metropolitan areas, that are inhospitable to the supercenter format.
If successful, the new format would help Wal-Mart retain customers who, put off by the enormity of its stores, seek what they are after in supermarkets or convenience stores.
By all accounts, Wal-Mart will continue with its stated plans for supercenter development. The retailer has said it will open at least 120 supercenters this year and at least 100 a year from 1999 on. Most of these openings are expected to be remodels of existing Wal-Mart discount stores in core markets in the South and Midwest.
Wal-Mart is now the No. 2 food retailer in the country, in terms of dollar sales. Its supercenter division, which comprises more than 400 units, now constitutes a $25 billion business, according to estimates.