A Storied Retail Name Bows to Internet Age -- WSJ

By Sarah Nassauer Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (December 7, 2017).

Continue Reading Below

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is taking the stores out of Wal-Mart.

The retail behemoth with more than 11,700 locations around the world announced Wednesday that it will shorten its legal name to Walmart Inc. The move highlights the company's shift away from building traditional stores toward competing online with rival Amazon.com Inc.

"We felt it was best to have a name that was consistent with the idea that you can shop us however you like as a customer," said Wal-Mart Chief Executive Doug McMillon.

Other big companies have changed names to signal a shift in strategy to customers or investors. Steve Jobs in 2007 decided to shorten Apple Computer Inc.'s name to Apple Inc. as it moved into phones and other devices. Google Inc. became Alphabet Inc. in 2015 as the company branched out into more businesses beyond search, like self-driving cars and robots.

Companies that are in the midst of change often struggle to "sit down with a group of investors and say, 'Forget everything you heard before, we are different now,'" said branding consultant Allen Adamson. "That is why some companies pursue a change."

Continue Reading Below

Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in 1962 in Rogers, Ark., after opening several stores with other names including a Walton's 5 & 10. The name Walmart came from Bob Bogle, one of the first store managers, according to Mr. Walton's autobiography. The company incorporated in 1969 as Wal-Mart Inc., then became Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 1970 when it went public.

Stores still account for more than 95% of its revenue, but in recent years the company has shifted away from opening hundreds of new stores to pouring funds into growing online and improving existing stores.

Last year, Wal-Mart purchased online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion to expand its e-commerce efforts. In the most recent quarter, sales rose the fastest in nearly a decade, boosted by accelerating online sales and more shoppers visiting stores.

To pay for the online strategy, executives said in October that the retailer would deepen cost-cutting and only open around two dozen U.S. stores next fiscal year, the lowest number in at least 25 years.

The corporate name change "is just a symbol of how customers are shopping us today and how they'll increasingly shop us in the future," Mr. McMillon wrote in a blog post. "Whether it's in our stores, on our sites, with our apps, by using their voice or whatever comes next."

The new legal name will take effect Feb. 1, the company said. It won't require a big investment to change logos. The cost is "not material," a spokesman said, since Wal-Mart has been using an unhyphenated version of its name on store fronts, shopping bags, carts and its advertising since 2008.

Many corporate name changes are spawned by acquisitions or reorganizations. The 2000 merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp. gave the world Verizon Communications Inc. Just this year, Coach Inc. changed its name to Tapestry Inc. after buying rival Kate Spade & Co.

Others were the result of necessity. Limited Brands Inc. became L Brands Inc. in 2013 after founder and CEO Leslie Wexner sold off his original retail chain, The Limited. During the 1990s dot-com boom, companies like 1-800-Flowers Inc. appended ".com" to their nameplate. Though many raced to drop it after the 2000 bust.

A few name changes have been head scratchers. Kraft Foods Inc. raised eyebrows when it chose to name its global snacks business Mondelez International Inc. in 2012.

Tribune Publishing Co., whose newspapers include the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, received a similar critique when it changed its name to Tronc Inc. last year.

Though Wal-Mart's change is comparatively subtle, Mr. McMillon looked to head off one potential conflict. "While our new legal name removes the dash, we're not planning to change the Walmart cheer," he wrote in his blog post.

Wal-Mart employees in stores and corporate offices often begin meetings by shouting the spelling of Wal-Mart, including the "squiggly," the internal name for the hyphen in Wal-Mart.

"It's important to have some fun at work," he wrote, "so for our associates in countries where your cheer calls for the squiggly, keep doing it!"

Write to Sarah Nassauer at sarah.nassauer@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 07, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)