Quality and cost? The evolution of Walmart's business strategy and human resource policies and practices in China and their impact (1996-2017)

Yuhua Xie, Fang Lee Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This study responds to calls for more in-depth and qualitative studies, the return to a focus on external factors, and the inclusion of business strategy and industrial relations in human resource management (HRM) research, as well as more research in the retail sector in the Chinese context. We examine the coevolution of the business strategy and HR strategy of Walmart (China) in the last two decades and identify tensions in the context of intensifying competition in the Chinese retail market. We highlight the interactive effect of business and HR strategies through a historical lens. Our study reveals a shift from the original employee-oriented win-win strategy through rent sharing between the firm and the employees to a win-lose strategy through the introduction of more cost conscious HR policies and practices. Findings of our study challenge the conventional wisdom that firms adopt either the cost or quality strategy and, along with it, the suggestion of matching the quality strategy with employee-oriented HR policies and practices, and cost leadership with a transactional approach to HRM. We argue a cost and quality business strategy may be adopted, which requires the support of employee-oriented, rather than cost-oriented, HR policies and practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-541
Number of pages21
JournalHuman Resource Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Business strategy-HR strategy fit
  • China
  • Industrial relations
  • Multinational corporations
  • Strategic human resource management
  • Walmart

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