Walmart is still riding the sales surge it’s enjoyed since the beginning of the pandemic. But there are signs that those sales are now slowing. Online sales rose 69% last quarter, down from 80% in the previous quarter, making it Walmart’s slowest quarter of growth since the pandemic began.
That means for Walmart, the months ahead will be about trying to hold on to its momentum as other businesses start to open up again.
One strategy it’s used during the pandemic is to embrace one-stop shopping, said John Zhang, a professor of retail marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Walmart has expanded into grocery delivery, pet care and even COVID-19 vaccines.
“Go to Walmart and get everything taken care of,” Zhang said.
That is, until the world reopens and choice becomes delightful again. Mark Cohen, who directs the retail studies program at Columbia Business School, said Walmart could do more to attract discretionary spending, with exclusive clothing and beauty lines. That is something, he said, that its competitor Target does well.
“At the end of the day, you run out of appeal without having compelling assortments,” Cohen said.
Zhang said that’s the kind of thing that pulls shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores. Walmart needs to do this because online shopping will inevitably drop off when the lockdowns end. Plus, with its nearly 11,000 locations, Walmart doesn’t want all of its customers to shop online, which is more expensive for retailers.
“Picking and delivering and all those other things. Yeah, it’s less profitable,” said Matthew Hamory, managing director at AlixPartners.
Grocery delivery has especially tight margins — some retailers even lose money on it. But it’s also been a huge boost in getting people to shop at Walmart during the pandemic, which creates a dilemma.
“How do I really get the most return out of this enormous investment I have in stores? How do I use that to drive all components of my business, including online?” Hamory said.
For Walmart to maintain its current footing, it needs to keep investing even in areas that don’t make so much money. Because Walmart’s profits rely on customer loyalty.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?
Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.
How has the pandemic changed scientific research?
Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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