COVID-19

Curbside pickup, delivery poised to boost Walmart sales

Justin Ho May 18, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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An employee restocks a shelf at an Ohio Walmart. Employees shop for customers for the chain's popular curbside pickup option. Chris Hondros/Getty Images
COVID-19

Curbside pickup, delivery poised to boost Walmart sales

Justin Ho May 18, 2020
An employee restocks a shelf at an Ohio Walmart. Employees shop for customers for the chain's popular curbside pickup option. Chris Hondros/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Walmart reports quarterly earnings this Tuesday. The company’s stores have stayed open throughout the crisis, giving it a front-row seat on how our shopping habits have changed.

One of the brightest spots of Walmart’s business has been curbside pickup, a service where customers order things online, drive to the store and wait while a worker loads everything into their trunks.

“And that, during COVID, has just accelerated,” said Lei Duran, who follows Walmart for the research firm Kantar. She said curbside pickup has gotten huge because people are using the service to buy groceries.

That’s an area where Walmart already dominates.

“We show that half of all online grocery shoppers are using Walmart for their online grocery orders,” Duran said.

Walmart’s success with curbside pickup comes with costs. Charlie O’Shea, Moody’s lead retail analyst for Walmart, said labor is a big one. It’s a manually intensive process for workers to pick out and scan hundreds of grocery products.

“You’ll see the employees standing in front of the shelf, kind of scratching their head every so often, [thinking] ‘All right, which one of these, and uh-oh we don’t have it. What do I substitute?’ ” O’Shea said.

Groceries also carry lower margins than the other products Walmart sells, like barbecues, bikes or clothes. On Friday, the government said apparel sales dropped almost 80% last month.

O’Shea said the crisis is changing the way Walmart makes money.

“You’re going to see just absolute blowout sales in food, consumables. You will see obvious softness in the discretionary categories.”

Curbside pickup has one big advantage for Walmart. It doesn’t have to deliver those groceries to your house. Brian Yarbrough, a consumer research analyst at Edward Jones, said curbside pickup is more profitable for retailers than online delivery.

“It’s the shipping costs and the free shipping that really eats all the margins,” Yarbrough said, adding that the pandemic is pushing more customers toward online delivery, too. While Walmart loses money delivering products to customers, he says it can still benefit.

“For Walmart, it’s about gaining market share, and gaining new customers, and offering the options,” he said. What remains to be seen, Yarbrough said, is whether those new customers continue to shop at Walmart when the pandemic calms down.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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