Wal-Mart China to upgrade stores for $93 mln, open 30 more in 2014

HONG KONG Tue May 20, 2014 2:57am EDT

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HONG KONG May 20 (Reuters) - The China operating arm of U.S. retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Tuesday it planned to invest 580 million yuan ($92.99 million) to remodel 55 existing stores in China this year to enhance store operations and optimize customer experience.

Wal-Mart China also said it will open about 30 high-quality stores and additional distribution centers in China this year as part of its three-year growth plan announced last October.

China is key to Wal-Mart's international ambitions but it has stumbled in a market where consumers value safe and authentic food over the low prices for which the retailer is known.

The announcement comes almost a month after Wal-Mart appointed a new chief executive for the China region, where the world's largest retailer is battling stiff competition from local rivals. Sean Clarke, current chief operating officer in China, will take over the China CEO role from June 1.

The U.S. retailer, which operates about 400 units in China, said last October that it would open up to 110 facilities in the country between 2014 and 2016 and was looking to close 15-30 others over the next 18 months as part of a rationalization process in the country.

Its local rival, Sun Art Retail Group Ltd, said in March it would continue to maintain steady new store expansion after China's top hypermarket operator posted a 15.2 percent rise in 2013 net profit with an expanding store network helping it shrug off an economic slowdown.

($1 = 6.2374 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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