When it comes to big box discount stores, Wal-Mart dominates the market with its sheer size. But its primary competitor, Target, has been carving out market share with catchy advertising campaigns and hip design partnerships. Beyond size and the occasional sold-out capsule collection, how do Wal-Mart and Target really stack up?  

The Elephant in the Room

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT) is the world’s largest retail company with over 10,700 stores—4,500 of those in the United States. Its main rival, Target Corp (TGT), operates approximately 1,795 stores in the United States. In 2013, Wal-Mart dominated with a retail market share of 11.4 percent compared to Target’s 2.4 percent. We can have a glance at its balance sheet and market cap to see how huge Wal-Mart is compared to Target. As of the financial year ending in January 31, 2015, Wal-Mart’s total assets were $203.7 billion, about five times larger than Target’s comparatively modest $41.4 billion. In terms of market capitalization, Wal-Mart's $240 billion is three times larger than Target’s $79 billion. (Read more How Wal-Mart Makes its Money)

Size Isn’t Everything

Wal-Mart may be a lot bigger than Target, but size isn’t everything. For one, size does not tell how efficiently a company operates. For that, investors should look towards the inventory turnover, asset turnover, and receivables turnover ratios. By comparing these numbers against competitors’ numbers as well as against the retail sector (Wal-Mart, Target, Costco Wholesale Corp (COST), and Dollar General Corporation (DG) are large players in the sector), we can figure out how efficient the business is. 





Receivable Turnover




Inventory Turnover (TTM)




Asset Turnover (TTM)




Both Wal-Mart and Target beat the sector in receivable turnover. However, Wal-Mart has higher receivable turnover ratio than Target. When we convert the numbers to days, Wal-Mart collects its receivables in 4.5 days whereas Target takes 5.6 days. This 1-day difference is negligible. A short account receivable collection period is typical for the retail sector as proved by these figures. Both companies have lower inventory turnover ratios than the sector. It takes Wal-Mart about 45 days to turn its inventory, whereas Target needs 60 days. The sector needs 33 days. Comparing asset turnover, we can conclude that Wal-Mart is highly efficient compared to both Target and the sector, because it has higher asset turnover than the latter two. High asset turnover implies high level of sales per dollar of total assets.

Wal-Mart also seems to be more efficient in cash generation than the competitor. Wal-Mart generates $0.14 per dollar of asset from operations versus Target which generates $0.11 per dollar of asset. Higher cash-to-total-assets ratio implies a more efficient use of assets and also is an indicator of higher liquidity.


In terms of profitability, Target seems to perform better than Wal-Mart and, in some instances, the sector overall. Target beats Wal-Mart in both gross profit margin and net profit margin. This may be in part due to Wal-Mart’s low price guarantee policy under which Wal-Mart promises the lowest possible prices for its products. However, both companies have a below-industry-average net profit margin.





Gross Margin (TTM)




Gross Margin - 5 Year Average




Net Profit Margin (TTM)




Net Profit Margin - 5 Year Average.




The Bottom Line

Wal-Mart is a retail giant that is at least 5 times larger than its primary competitor, Target. Wal-Mart also seems more efficient in business operations than Target—this is reflected in its higher inventory and asset turnover, as well as operational dollar generated per dollar of asset. However, when we compare the two from a financial perspective, Target is slightly more profitable than Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart's lower gross profit margin and net profit margin can be explained by its everyday low price strategy which features a low price guarantee policy. (Read more Costco, Target or Wal-Mart: Which is the Best Bet?)

Disclosures: At the time of this writing, the author did not have holdings in any of the companies mentioned in this article.





Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.