Auf Wiedersehen, Wal-Mart

It was a noble fight, but it's time for another Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) retreat. The company is pulling out of Germany -- selling its 85 stores there to Metro AG -- just as it had left the cutthroat market in South Korea earlier this year.

The failure to make it work after nine years in Germany does not mean that Wal-Mart's fundamentals are crumbling. The company continues to grow elsewhere and remains an attractively priced Inside Value newsletter service recommendation. The move simply reminds us of the cultural and competitive challenges that get in the way of dreams of American global domination.

Far too often, we Americans overlook those global challenges. Whether it's nationalistic hubris or the flawed notion that if something works stateside it has to work everywhere else, investors often get burned in thinking that a successful domestic company can clone itself overseas. It's never that easy. Companies like Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) , Toys "R" Us, and France's Carrefour haven't exactly had cakewalks on their bumpy paths toward global domination, either. Even the seemingly unstoppable McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) bowed out of Jamaica last year.

This is a lesson that works in both offline and online realms. If Japan seems simple enough to crack, just ask eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) . The company left Japan four years ago after it couldn't topple Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) for control of the Internet auction space.

Wal-Mart's exit is important because the model seemed bulletproof. Working on lean margins and making it up in turnover, the company's technological efficiencies make the world's leading retailer tough to beat in delivering rock-bottom prices. Saving money doesn't need a translator.

Unfortunately for Wal-Mart, pricing isn't everything. Cultural differences remain, and people around the world have a knack for rallying around the familiar and homegrown.

Philip Durellhas singled out Wal-Mart and Gap for hisInside Valuenewsletter. eBay and Gap have been recommended toStock Advisorreaders. Take the newsletter that best fits your investing style for a 30-day free spin.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has probably spent more at Wal-Mart's online store than at its offline empire in recent years. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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