When it comes to companies, it can be hard to get a feel for their size. They may say they're "big," but what does that actually mean? Consider Walmart (WMT), for example. This year, for the seventh time in the past decade, Fortune magazine awarded the retailer the No. 1 slot on its annual list of the 500 largest American companies, as measured by revenues (a.k.a. gross income or sales).
But how big is Walmart really? The numbers provided by Fortune are so insanely large that they're hard to wrap your head around in the abstract. So I did a little digging and came up with some pretty stunning comparisons.
According to Fortune, Walmart sold $421,849,000,000 worth of stuff last year. The largest purchase most of us will ever make is our house: If all Walmart sold were new homes, which averaged $268,900 in April, that would be almost 1.59 million homes.
That's also just about the same amount of money that the United States spent in 2009 for the entire year's worth of Medicare, the government program that provides health insurance to senior citizens and younger Americans who are permanently disabled. That $421.8 billion is also about $9 billion less than Taiwan's 2010 gross domestic product -- the total value of the country's goods and services in a single year -- and $7 billion more than Norway's 2010 GDP. In other words, if Walmart were a country, it would be the 25th largest economy in the world.
Speaking of countries, let's talk population: Fortune reports that 2.1 million people work at Walmart, which means there are about as many Walmart employees sprinkled across the globe as there are people living in the African country of Namibia (yes, that Namibia, where Angelina Jolie gave birth). There are another 95 countries with populations smaller than the retailer's sprawling workforce, including Botswana, Kosovo, The Gambia, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahrain, Cyprus, Qatar, Luxembourg, Belize, Iceland, The Bahamas and Greenland.
And how much land would Walmart the country hold? The company has 952,203,837 square feet of retail space, or roughly 34.16 square miles. That's just about 1.5 times the size of the borough of Manhattan. And that's just the stores: We're not even including their offices or distribution facilities ... or their gigantic parking lots.
Discussing parking lots, naturally, brings us to driving. According to Fortune, the company's nearly 8,000 drivers logged 749 million miles in 2010, the equivalent of circling the Earth not once, not twice, not a thousand times, but thirty thousand times. No wonder Fortune once called the retailer "Planet Walmart." It does feel like they are creating a branded, discount world in which we are all headed for citizenship, whether we like it or not.
Loren Berlin is a columnist at DailyFinance.com. She can be reached at loren.berlin (at) teamaol.com. You can follow her on Twitter @LorenBerlin, or on Facebook.