In 2020, the pandemic provided a powerful sales boost for both of retail’s two biggest companies. Walmart’s WMT +0.9% annual revenue last year rose 6.7% to $559.15 billion. It was the fastest top line growth in 12 years, and kept the Bentonville, Ark.-based behemoth in first place among the entire Global 2000 for total sales.
The surge was even stronger for Amazon.com AMZN +1.9%, which saw sales soar 37.6% to $386.06 billion in 2020, the second highest of any Global 2000 company on this year’s list. The jump was Seattle-based Amazon’s biggest year-over-year percentage revenue increase since 2011.
Walmart for now has the highest sales of any company in the Global 2000, but Amazon, currently ranked second, should overtake Walmart in revenue by the end of next year, according to analysts’ forecasts. Amazon’s overall Global 2000 ranking is already ahead of Walmart’s (No. 10 vs. No 18), and one three of the four criteria considered for company size: profits (No. 16 vs. No. 34); assets (No. 129 vs. No. 160); and market value (No. 4 vs. No. 17).
Thanks to buoyancy in its stock price, Amazon in 2020 became a trillion-dollar company by market capitalization. Amazon shares gained 41% for the year ending April 16, more than five times Walmart’s 8% return, and its $1.71 trillion market value is more than quadruple Walmart’s $396 billion.
The two titans of retail often battle to win business from the other, like in the lucrative grocery business, where Walmart enjoys a nearly 20% market share compared to 2% for Amazon, which owns the Whole Foods WFM 0.0% grocery chain. Walmart’s lead is under assault from Amazon and from local grocery stores using services like Instacart to leaning more heavily into online sales.
One initiative literally bearing fruit for Amazon is its growing number of Amazon Fresh AMZN +1.9% locations set up to peddle perishable products to grocery shoppers in a brick-and-mortar store. Walmart for its part is not standing still and expanding its presence in the online channel where sales surged 79% last year.
The third biggest retailer in the Global 2000 is China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which outranks both Amazon and Walmart in terms of profit, and whose market value of $658 billion exceeds that of Walmart. Overall, it’s the 23rd biggest company in the Global 2000. Although Alibaba is the heavyweight of online commerce in China, competition is fierce with rivals like JD.com, the world’s sixth biggest retailer with an overall rank in 2021 of No. 101, up sharply from No. 238 last year.
Business was brisk in 2020 for home improvement retailers, as both Home Depot HD -0.6% and Lowe’s moved up in overall ranking. The pandemic also helped to propel some new names from the retail world into the Global 2000, including Williams-Sonoma WSM +2.5% (No. 1319), Dick’s Sporting Goods DKS +3.4% (No. 1848), and Big Lots BIG +3.5% (No. 1848).
I am the deputy editor of investing content for Forbes Media. I’m responsible for money and investing coverage on Forbes.com and in Forbes magazine. As editor of the Forbes Dividend Investor newsletter service, I send out two dividend stock recommendations per week and send out weekly updates with the best 25 current buys. I’m also a Senior Editor for Forbes Newsletter Group, including its virtual events business, Forbes iConferences. Prior to joining the company, I spent five years with CNN Financial News working with Lou Dobbs, where I produced long-form pieces and reported on management, entrepreneurship and financial markets. I’ve also worked for Bloomberg TV and Inc. Magazine.