Wal-Mart plans to slow store openings, invest more online
Wal-Mart Stores Inc plans to slow its new store openings and pour more money into its online efforts, technology and store remodels, the company said on Thursday.
The world's largest retailer also tempered its outlook, saying it anticipates fiscal 2018 earnings per share being about flat with its fiscal 2017 adjusted earnings per share. It foresees fiscal 2019 earnings-per-share growth of about five per cent.
Wal-Mart completed its more than US$3-billion buyout of the fast-growing online retailer, Jet.com, last month, showing how heavily it's willing to invest to boost online sales that totalled US$13.7 billion last year - still just a fraction of its annual revenue.
"This company is going to look more like an e-commerce company," CEO Doug McMillon told analysts at the company's annual investment meeting.
Like its direct store rivals, Wal-Mart is trying to be more nimble as it fights off competition from online leader Amazon.com, whose Prime shopping programme is swiftly converting members into loyal shoppers. And it faces competition from dollar stores and traditional grocers like Kroger, which are ramping up promotions.
But Wal-Mart has seen its investments online and in the stores pay off - and it's starting to gain ground over some of the competitors.
It has launched a flurry of changes, from making sure its vegetables look good to cleaning up its stores to being sharper on keeping prices low. The company has 150 fresh-food managers working to train store sales associates.
Online grocery shopping
Wal-Mart is also melding online services with its massive fleet of stores. It rolled out a mobile payment system to speed checkouts. And it's pushing ahead with online grocery and pickup services. Greg Foran, CEO and president of Wal-Mart's US namesake business, told analysts on Thursday that by the end of the year, it will have grocery online pickup services at 600 US stores.
The company is in the second year of its US$2.7-billion investment in its workers that involves higher pay and more training. It says that such investments as well as the other moves are already helping to improve customer service in the stores.
Wal-Mart had raised its annual profit outlook in August after reporting its eighth straight quarterly increase in revenue of stores opened at least a year and the seventh quarterly gain in customer traffic at its namesake Wal-Mart US business. Global online sales rose 11.8 per cent in the second quarter. That's up from the seven per cent pace of the first quarter but still far weaker than the 20 per cent increases from less than two years ago.
McMillon reiterated to analysts on Thursday that he believes the Jet.com acquisition will help it attract higher-income and younger customers. The company plans to incorporate some of Jet.com's technology that lowers prices in real time. As part of the deal, Marc Lore, co-founder and CEO of Jet.com, is overseeing both the site and Walmart.com.
"I look around and see the vast assets," Lore told investors on Thursday. "This is the perfect time to accelerate the business."
Foran said that Lore will be working to increasingly get the store and online selections to match, so if customers see something in the store, they'll know they can find it online.
Increasing stake in JD.com
The retailer still has plenty of challenges, notably in China, and it's struggling in the United Kingdom and Brazil. It announced on Wednesday that it was increasing its stake in JD.com, China's No. 2 e-commerce site, to 10.8 per cent from 5.9 per cent. That comes nearly four months after Wal-Mart bought an initial stake in JD.com in a deal that also gave JD.com ownership of the Chinese e-commerce site Yihaodian, including the brand and app.
Wal-Mart said on Thursday it would spend US$11 billion on capital expenditures this year, and the same for the following fiscal year. In the fiscal year ended in January, the company spent US$11.5 billion on capital expenditures. But Wal-Mart said it will be investing more of that money in e-commerce and digital initiatives.
The company also said that it plans to open 130 US stores this year, but that's below its forecast issued last year that it would open 135 to 155 new stores. In its last fiscal year, it opened 230 US stores. It said it plans to open another 55 US stores next year.
Wal-Mart reiterated that its earnings per share for the current year on an adjusted basis would be US$4.15 per share to US$4.35 per share on an adjusted basis.