Could the world's biggest retailer be coming to Israel? According to a report in Bloomberg, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with senior Walmart executive John Furner on the sidelines of last month's World Economic Forum in Davos and urged him to open up a branch in Israel.
Netanyahu's economics advisor Avi Simhon confirmed the meeting, saying that "we made it clear we are ready to ease regulatory burdens wherever possible to make the market more accessible to them. The door to Netanyahu’s office is open," added Simhon.
The mega-retailer is the world's largest employer, with 11,703 stores in 28 different countries.
Netanyahu also attempted to persuade CEOs of other international conglomerates to expand into Israel during his time at Davos, with special emphasis on Chinese and Japanese companies, such as Mitsubishi. "The prime minister decided to put the emphasis on these two key Asian economies during our meetings there," Simhon said. "Our message to these companies was that we're open for business. The Prime Minister's Office is here to make their path smoother and easier."
Once known for shopping at local markets, Israelis have been shopping at international chain stores in increasing numbers. In 2001, Swedish furniture giant Ikea opened up its first branch in Netanya, followed by Rishon Lezion and Kiryat Ata, with a new outlet to open in Beer Sheva in the coming months.
In August, international sporting goods store Decathlon set off a craze after opening its first branch in Rishon Lezion. Thousands of Israelis camped out at the store before opening at stripped it clean of merchandise, forcing Decathlon to close for 24 hours in order to restock.
In addition, Amazon is planning to open its first Middle East shipping center in Israel, with an eye on the Modi’in area on Highway 443.The company is reportedly interested in building a storage center with 270,000 square feet or more of storage space, and will launch a separate website catering to the Israeli market.
If Amazon does open the shipping center in Israel, the move would likely accelerate the trend away from brick-and-mortar stores towards online retailers. Israeli shoppers are expected to spend some $4 billion by the year’s end online, an 18% increase over 2016. With reduced restrictions on items, shipping times, and import fees, an Amazon shipping center in Israel could lead to a multi-billion dollar increase in annual online sales in Israel.