Wal-Mart’s online sales growth slows for the year

February 18, 2016 12:23 PM

Challenges in big e-commerce markets outside the United States—Brazil, China and the United Kingdom—hampered web sales growth for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in fiscal  2016 that ended Jan. 29, CEO and president Doug McMillon said today on an earnings call with investors.

Global e-commerce sales for the retail giant, No. 3 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, grew 12.3% to $13.7 billion from $12.2 billion a year ago, the company reported. For the fourth quarter, online sales grew 8%, though Wal-Mart did not break out dollar figures. The metrics were adjusted for currency fluctuations. Wal-Mart did not disclose currency-neutral e-commerce numbers.

E-commerce growth at Wal-Mart slowed in fiscal 2016 compared with the 22% growth during fiscal 2015 and 30% jump in fiscal 2014. McMillon said economic weakness in China and Brazil and the online competitive landscape in the U.K. posed e-commerce challenges for Wal-Mart last year.

But with the retailer set to spend more than $1.1 billion this year on e-commerce, some analysts wonder about results. “Their eyes were very big, and you can’t necessarily blame them for Brazil or the U.K. or China, but they weren’t careful and conservative in their view of what e-commerce was going to do,” says Meredith Adler, an analyst with Barclays Plc. She said Wal-Mart isn’t currently making a profit online and hasn’t indicated when it will.

In the United States, the retailer expanded its online grocery services to 150 locations in 20 markets in Q4 from 5 markets as of October. Online grocery, faster delivery and more products on the website helped web sales grow. The company did not break out regional e-commerce figures.

“In the U.S., we plan to build on the foundation we’ve built by delivering a significant assortment expansion and faster delivery at a lower cost this year,” McMillon said. “We have improved our fulfillment capabilities with new fulfillment centers that are helping us get orders to customers’ doors faster and more efficiently.”

In addition, McMillon said the company “needs more gross merchandise value growth.” The value of goods sold on Wal-Mart’s websites globally grew 13% for the year. In the fourth quarter, gross merchandise value grew 8%.

Groceries could give Wal-Mart an edge, at least for a little bit. “If there is one piece Walmart knows in the U.S., it is grocery, so I think that is a logical move forward,” says Robert Drbul, an analyst with Nomura Securities. “Wal-Mart has a five- to 10-year advantage in grocery. They really need to double down on that because competing with Amazon on price is proving to be a bad idea.”

Neil Ashe, president and CEO of Wal-Mart’s global e-commerce, said the new fulfillment centers helped during the busy holiday season, and it was the first holiday season with new technology on, built on its in-house technology platform Pangaea.

“Our new platform was powering the front- and back-end shopping experience for the first time during the holiday. Customers could order gifts even closer to Christmas this year, and they saw our best on-time delivery rates ever, thanks to our new fulfillment centers,” Ashe said.

Purchases on mobile devices on Thanksgiving doubled from last year and accounted for more than half of online sales, Ashe said.

Rosalind Brewer, president and CEO of the Sam’s Club warehouse store unit, said more holiday promotions on Sam’s Club’s website increased traffic by 7% and the conversion rate by 18% on during the fourth quarter compared with the same period a year ago. In the quarter, the buy online, pick up in store business for Sam’s Club increased 46% year over year and is the fastest-growing piece of the warehouse unit. 

For the fiscal fourth quarter ended Jan. 29, Wal-Mart reported:

  • Revenue of $129.67 billion, down 1.4% from $131.57 billion a year ago. Revenue on a constant-currency basis was $134.45 billion, up 2.2% from $131.49 billion. 
  • U.S. net sales of $81.5 billion, up 2.4% from $79.6 billion a year earlier.
  • International revenue was $32.7 billion, down 9.7% from $36.2 billion.
  • Global e-commerce revenue on a constant-currency basis grew 8% compared with a year ago. Gross merchandise value increased 8% year over year. Wal-Mart does not disclose dollars figures for e-commerce.
  • U.S. comparable-store sales for Wal-Mart stores locations were up 0.6% compared with 1.5% a year ago.
  • Net income of $4.57 billion, down 7.9% from $4.96 billion in the same period a year ago.

For fiscal 2016, Wal-Mart reported:

  • Revenue of $482.13 billion, down 0.7% from $485.65 billion in fiscal 2015. On a constant-currency basis, revenue was up 2.8% to $499.36 billion from $485.38 billion.  
  • Global e-commerce revenue increased 12.3% to $13.7 billion from $12.2 billion on a constant-currency basis year over year. Gross merchandise value grew 13% year over year.
  • Net income of $14.69 billion, down 10.2% from $16.36 billion.

Bloomberg News contributed to this story.



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