Analysis: Walmart is winning market share across many categories

Although Walmart is an old-school retailer, it is not afraid to learn new tricks and to shift its thinking. This youthful and innovative approach has helped it deliver another solid set of results in a highly competitive market.

The overall net revenue gain of 1.4% may not sound stellar, but for a company of the size of Walmart, this is a significant uplift in dollar terms. At Walmart U.S., the 2.9% increase in net sales equates to an additional $2.1 billion taken over the first quarter — an impressive achievement given 2016 included an extra day of trading from the leap year. From an already high base, Walmart is now winning market share across many categories.

There is some benefit to the numbers from Walmart's recent acquisitions, but with underlying sales also rising at a reasonable clip, these are the icing on the cake rather than the sole reason for Walmart's growth. Within Walmart U.S., comparable sales increased by 1.4% – an encouraging outcome given much of the increase was down to strong uplifts in traffic. In our view, Walmart's investments in price, its focus on service in stores, and its omnichannel push are all paying dividends. The delay in tax refunds, which resulted in lower sales of higher ticket merchandise over the early part of the quarter, put a small dent in growth, but not by enough to cause serious concern.

Looking in more detail at the various strands of Walmart's initiatives, a sharper focus on price is cutting through — especially on grocery. From our data, Walmart is winning back some — but by no means all — customers from dollar stores. It is also picking up some customers from mainstream grocers. The response to Walmart flexing its price muscles has been good, and we expect further small gains over the rest of this year. A more disciplined focus on low prices is also important as Aldi, and now Lidl, expand into the market.

That said, we believe the threat of the two chains – especially to players like Walmart — is overstated. There are aspects of the deep discounters such as limited range, smaller stores, and a relative lack of national brands — that is off-putting for many U.S. consumers. Our data also show that, in some markets, the price differences between the discounters and others are wildly exaggerated. In our view, this means Walmart is unlikely to need to respond much more aggressively than it already has.

While stores are working, Walmart's e-commerce business is in the ascendancy. Gross merchandise value for the online businesses rose by 69% over the prior year. Although this includes the contribution from the acquired businesses, it nonetheless shows that Walmart is growing its digital market share at a significant pace. Positive changes to free shipping requirements and the addition of millions of more products to the online store have both resulted in steady uplifts in customer numbers.

We are particularly pleased that Walmart is using discounting to encourage online shoppers to use more economical store pickup rather than delivery. We see the effective use of its real estate assets as one of Walmart's major strengths over Amazon.

All these initiatives necessitate higher levels of investment and, indeed, within the U.S. business operating expenses as a percentage of net sales increased by 14 basis points over the prior year. However, we are very encouraged that this was offset by strong sales, resulting in the first increase in U.S. operating income for three years.

While the home market continues to power ahead, Walmart's international operations remain patchy. Overall performance is sound, but weaknesses persist in the U.K. where Asda continues to lose ground. There is a sense that Walmart is getting to grips with some of the issues, but we believe it will be some time before all parts of international make a solid contribution.

Overall, this is an encouraging start to the year for Walmart. In our view, the business has not only the strength to hold its own, but to take on the likes of Amazon and new value players. This is one U.S. retailer that is ahead of the curve in responding to the evolving landscape.

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FINANCE

Ace gains on income with minimal movement on revenue

BY HBSDealer Staff

Ace Hardware reported a slight increase in revenue during the first quarter, as well as more substantial progress in net income.

Revenue came in at $1.2 billion, up 0.1% from the first quarter of 2016. Net income of $28.3 million was up 8.4% over the year.

Same-store sales were down 0.2% due to decreased customer traffic, reported by the approximately 3,000 Ace retailers who share daily retail sales data.

John Venhuizen, president and CEO of Ace, acknowledged the somewhat lackluster sales performance.

“I’m delighted to report an 8.4% increase in net income, a double digit jump in accrued patronage dividends for our owners and surpassing a global store count of 5,000 stores in the quarter," said Venhuizen. “While revenue improved, our increase fell short of our expectations. And despite the obvious temptation, I’ll resist pinning the blame on the less than favorable weather.”

Retail revenues from Ace Retail Holdings were $52.0 million in the first quarter of 2017, however, up 2.8% from the first quarter of 2016 thanks to the addition of new retail stores. However, same-store sales decreased 3.0%.

The co-op also added 16 new domestic stores and cancelled 21 for a net decrease of 5 stores during the quarter — a total domestic store count of 4,358. This was still up 56 stores from the first quarter of 2016.

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So what do shoppers really want from technology?

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

As consumers become increasingly digitally influenced, retailers are struggling to find the right mix of technology to drive engagement.

So what’s the solution? Here’s a hint: consumers desire a strong technology presence coupled with the familiarity of human interaction during a shopping experience, according to “What Shoppers Want from Retail Technology.” The study, from experiential retail marketing firm Interactions, a division of Daymon, surveyed more than 1,000 adult shoppers to further understand how to successfully integrate human and computerized interactions into a shopper’s retail journey.

According to the survey, today’s shoppers are influenced by both digital and human engagement. That said, 84% of shoppers expect retailers to successfully utilize technological features to improve their shopping experience, and 62% are motivated by an initial human greeting upon entering the store.

“Consumers want both digital and human interfaces today. They desire the integration of technology into their shopping experience, but nothing can truly replace the accessibility of a traditional store associate,” said Bharat Rupani, president of Interactions. “The key for retailers is to balance human interaction with technology to streamline and compliment the consumer’s overall retail journey.”

While consumers may require an in-person associate for guidance during their retail experience, they are also eager to fully integrate themselves into the technological advancements happening in the retail space. These include:

• Targeted notifications. Nearly 60% of consumers spend more money at stores that send mobile notifications, which can be received while they shop or while they’re at home. Retailers have the opportunity to influence purchase decisions through a consistent stream of communication, leading to unplanned purchases and motivation to visit a physical store or website.

• Customizable products. Thanks to technological advancements such as personalization and 3D printing, 95% of shoppers are looking forward to purchasing products created through 3D printing. Meanwhile, nearly 80% of shoppers say they are inclined to spend more at a retailer that can help create their own products through 3D printing.

• Efficiency and human interaction. Consumers want human interaction balanced with technological advancements to enhance the retail experience. Only 10% of shoppers want to interact with a store associate as part of the checkout process providing retailers the opportunity to employ alternative, more automated checkout methods. At the same time, over 60% want to be greeted in-store by an associate.

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