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The Journal Gazette

Friday, May 19, 2017 1:00 am

Wal-Mart bucks trend; sales online, in store soar

ANNE D'INNOCENZIO | Associated Press

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Wal-Mart saw online sales surge as it changed up its shipping offers and drew more shoppers to its stores, as well, in the most recent quarter even as retail overall is more competitive.

The world's largest retailer said Thursday that sales at established stores rose for the 11th straight quarter, and customer traffic rose for the 10th quarter in a row. That's a contrast with many rivals that saw both those figures drop.

Online sales at Walmart.com rose 63 percent, dramatically up from the 29 percent growth in the previous quarter. Though the company has been buying up smaller internet retailers, Wal-Mart said a majority of the increase was through Walmart.com and was fueled by changes in its shipping strategy and a discount for shoppers who pick up their online orders.

“We're transforming to become more of a digital enterprise,” said Doug McMillon, CEO and president of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Wal-Mart's report stood out amid a largely gloomy environment for retailers, after chains like Macy's, Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Target saw declines in comparable-store sales. Even off-price retailer TJX Cos., which has done better than many as customers hunt for bargains, missed forecasts for that sales measure. And it underscores Wal-Mart's efforts to narrow the gap between itself and online leader Amazon and widen the distance between itself and other competitors.

Retail bankruptcies are setting a record pace this year, and store closures are expected to exceed those of 2008 after the financial crisis. 

“Wal-Mart is effectively competing in a tough retail environment, and given its size, scale, and leverage will be able to stay the course on the current strategy,” Stifel analyst Mark S. Astrachan wrote in a note.

Wal-Mart reported first-quarter profit of $3.04 billion. On a per-share basis, it earned $1. The results beat Wall Street expectations of 96 cents per share, according to a poll by Zacks Investment Research. Revenue was $117.54 billion, just shy of the $117.63 billion analysts had expected.

The company expects its per-share earnings to range from $1 to $1.08 for the current quarter. Analysts forecast adjusted earnings per share of $1.07.