by Thomas Wailgum

45 Years of Wal-Mart History: A Technology Time Line

Oct 17, 20073 mins
Data Center

For nearly half a century Wal-Mart has led the information technology charge to cope with growth and fuel its global expansion.

Sam Walton’s self-described distrust of computers didn’t keep him from building his company into a global leader of information technology innovation.


First Wal-Mart opens in Rogers, Ark.


With more than 125 stores and $340.3 million in sales, Wal-Mart leases an IBM 370/135 computer system to maintain inventory control for all merchandise in the warehouse and distribution centers and to prepare income statements for each store.

Electronic cash registers in more than 100 Wal-Mart stores record point-of-sale (POS) data to maintain inventory.


How Wal-Mart Lost Its Technology Edge

Wal-Mart’s Leadership Pipeline

Managing a Global Company


Wal-Mart builds a companywide computer network and deploys a system for ordering merchandise from suppliers.


Wal-Mart sales top $1.2 billion, making it the first company to reach more than $1 billion in sales in a mere 17 years. The company builds a computer center and installs the first terminal in a store: an IBM 3774.


The company begins to use bar codes for scanning POS data.


Store associates start using Texlon handheld terminals when reordering merchandise. Upon scanning a shelf label, the unit provides a description of the merchandise, information on prior quantities ordered and other data.

Bob Martin is named CIO.


Wal-Mart has 882 stores and sales of $8.4 billion.


Wal-Mart completes what is at the time the largest private satellite communication system in the United States. It links all operating units of company and headquarters with two-way voice, data and one-way video communication.

A check-in system designed to take full advantage of container bar-code labeling is in the back room of every Wal-Mart store.


A data warehouse prototype is created to store historical sales data.


Wal-Mart deploys the Retail Link system to strengthen supplier partnerships. The system provides vendors information on sale trends and inventory levels.


Randy Mott becomes CIO.


Wal-Mart has stores in 50 states, for a total of 1,995 Wal-Mart stores, 239 Supercenters, 433 Sam’s Clubs and 276 international stores. Sales top $93.6 billion.


Wal-Mart makes Retail Link and EDI available via the Internet and begins using the Internet as an application platform.

Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club launch online stores.


Kevin Turner becomes CIO.


Wal-Mart chooses the Internet for data exchange with thousands of its global suppliers.

Linda Dillman becomes CIO.

Wal-Mart has its biggest single-day sales in history: $1.43 billion on the day after Thanksgiving.


Wal-Mart announces it will deploy radio frequency identification (RFID) technology on Jan. 1, 2005.


Rollin Ford is named CIO.

Wal-Mart redesigns, starts experimenting with Web 2.0 and social networking tools, and contracts with Oracle and Hewlett-Packard to use their price-optimization and BI retail applications.

The company ends the year with $349 billion in sales, nearly 2 million employees and 6,775 stores worldwide.


Wal-Mart launches Site to Store service, enabling online customers to pick up merchandise in stores.

SOURCES: Academy of Information & Management Sciences Journal, 2006; CIO reporting;