We decided to pit two sister retailers against one another to see what the shopping experience was like at both: Walmart, the largest retailer in the US ...
... vs. Asda, the UK supermarket Walmart acquired for $10.8 billion in 1999.
Asda is the UK's second largest grocer, controlling 15% of the market. Specifically, we visited the Asda Superstore in Sittingbourne, Kent, in southeast England ...
... and the Walmart Supercenter in Secaucus, New Jersey. Both stores are the most common format of each brand name.
In the UK, the hallmarks of the world's largest retailer were immediately apparent at this Asda Superstore — the yellow lines that pop out of the "A" were the same as the ones that followed the word "Walmart" on its own sign.
The entrance of Asda was full of gardening materials, like mulch ...
... and a variety of potted plants.
There was also a place to pick up a scanning device, which the location of Walmart we checked out didn't offer.
In the US, while walking up to the entrance of Walmart we also saw a large outdoor gardening display. There were both potted and hanging plants, bags of mulch, and so many flowers in bloom.
We visited at the beginning of spring in the US, so this giant floral display made sense.
Once we stepped inside Asda in the UK, we saw the entrance was filled with bulk buys and special offers, including school clothes for kids.
There were bulk displays at the Walmart Supercenter in New Jersey as well, but they weren't as much of a focal point as they looked to be in Asda.
There was a display of discounted flower bouquets that stole the spotlight instead.
To our left, we were faced with a sprawling bakery section. There was a counter where shoppers could order custom cakes behind several display stands with cookies, cupcakes, and other goodies.
At Asda in the UK, there were a couple of fridges near the entrance, holding sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for hungry workers who wanted to come in for a quick bite. While multi-buy "meal deals" — sandwich, chips, and a drink for a fixed price — are a big part of UK lunch culture, Asda says its prices are so reasonable that it doesn't need to provide customers with a special offer.
Local newspapers were also on display near the entrance of Asda.
The magazines and tabloids at Walmart in the US were all lined up by the checkout stations.
Walking further into the UK store, we were first confronted by walls of fresh fruit and vegetables ...
... where organic labeling was omnipresent.
It's standard for UK supermarkets to have fruit and vegetables at the front of the store, which is a psychological trick designed to make you feel like you're entering someplace natural and fresh, one psychologist explained.
The Walmart Supercenter in the US used the same tactic when it came to fresh foods. Stepping past the flowers and bakery, we walked right into the produce section.
There were signs all over the produce section indicating "fresh" food "grown close to home."
Both stores gave a good first impression and had similar produce section layouts, so we couldn't pick a winner in this category.
Asda also had lines of fridges filled with fresh meat and fish.
The meat and fish sections at Walmart in the US were stocked as well. The wall was separated into sections labeled ground beef, pork, poultry, and seafood.
The backs of UK supermarkets are often organized into fishmongers, butchers, bakers, and deli counters where customers can ask for specific cuts, and this Asda was no different. Supermarkets in the US are often laid out in the same way.
While the Walmart we went to in New Jersey didn't have a fishmonger, it did have a deli counter similarly situated on the perimeter of the store.
Next to Walmart's deli counter was a wall of pre-packaged deli meats and cheeses. While this was a nice addition and offered a lot of variety for anyone shopping in this section, it fell short of all the fresh protein on offer at Asda.
Moving through the rest of the food sections, there were a lot more similarities between the stores. Brits love ready meals, which come pre-made and pre-packaged — all you need to do is put them in the oven or microwave.
And no UK supermarket would be complete without a variety of Indian and Chinese takeaway meal options. The convenience of these ready-made meals comes at a price, though, as they are often high in salt and fat and low in other nutrients.
There was a large section of ready-made meals at Walmart, too. Not only were there some near the grocery section, but there were loads of others in the freezer and refrigerated aisles of the store.
Asda's high-end range, called Extra Special, included dishes like Cottage Pie with Red Wine Ragu and King Prawn Linguine. For $13 (£10) we could have gotten a two-course Extra Special ready meal with a side and a drink.
The quick and easy lunch option we saw at Walmart in the US was a small selection of salads for around $4 (£3.15) each. Asda definitely had a better selection of grab-and-go foods.
This Asda location also had a DIY pizza counter where shoppers could choose their own toppings.
Walmart's pizza section consisted of frozen pies. Asda took this category as well.
In Asda's bakery section, there was an industrial-sized oven where bread, pastries, doughnuts, and more are prepared on-site every morning.
The Walmart Supercenter in New Jersey also had signs letting customers know that bread and other baked goodies were baked in the store that day. Because of this, the bakery category was a tie.
The Asda store had some hot food options, almost all of which were chicken in some form or another.
A selection of chicken — usually different flavored strips and some rotisserie options — is typical for US supermarkets as well. The Walmart we visited had a hot-case for its chicken selection that almost matched Asda's, but it included other hot options like mashed potatoes and corn as well. Since there wasn't much of a difference here, this category was a draw.
Along with hot and fresh foods, Asda had plenty of pre-packaged foods, too, including a wide variety of cereals. But we noticed the store's shelves were a pretty even split between dry foods like breakfast bars and fresh food like meat and vegetables.
Meanwhile, in the US, Walmart Supercenter had a vast selection of dry goods like walls and walls of cereal, snacks, and junk food.
When it came to sugary, reminiscent-of-childhood cereals, Walmart definitely won.
Moving away from the dry foods, the Sittingbourne Asda had a wide selection of frozen foods, offering at least two dozen different types of pizza.
The Secaucus Walmart Supercenter had a handful of aisles with freezer and refrigerator cases — each filled with different categories of food ranging from toaster waffles to organic frozen dinners.
Ultimately, Walmart just had a much larger frozen foods section, so this round went to the US store.
In the UK, Asda had plenty of Coca-Cola options — including a peach flavor — for anyone looking to pick up a drink with their meal.
While we didn't see a peach-flavored Coca-Cola on the shelves at Walmart, there were a lot of other options to choose from instead. We saw an entire section just for beverages with four, dual-lined aisles of soda. The variety at Walmart was much better than at Asda.
Certain aisles in Asda that had lots of liquids, like the soda aisle, also had cleaning stations situated between shelves. There were none of these stations at the Walmart we visited — Asda got points for encouraging cleanliness.
Moving through the store, we saw lots of holiday swag. Even though Easter was still months away at the time of our visit to Asda, the UK store had a full aisle of chocolate eggs, bunnies, and more.
We visited the Walmart Supercenter ahead of Memorial Day, and we saw plenty of celebratory goodies as well. The holiday cheer was spread out throughout the store, showing itself in cupcake decorations and party socks alike.
In general, there seemed to be more holiday-themed products in Walmart than there were in Asda. So if you're looking to do a one-stop shopping trip for decorations and themed cakes, Walmart would be the better store to visit.