Walmart Q4: business momentum lifts sales beyond $500bn

Date : 19 February 2019

Stewart Samuel

Program Director - Canada

We review Walmart's fourth quarter and full year results and the drivers behind its performance.

Walmart's key numbers

  • Walmart's total revenue in Q4 increased by 1.9% to $138.8bn
  • Sales in its US stores increased by 4.6%, while the impact of club closures saw sales at Sam’s Club fall 3.7%
  • US comp store sales increased by 4.2%, and by 6.8% on a two-year basis
  • Sam’s Club comp sales were up 3.3%
  • International net sales decreased by 2.3 to $32.3bn, but increased by 2.7% on a constant currency basis
  • Operating income increased by 35.8% to $6.1bn
  • Full year sales increased 2.8% to $514.4bn
  • US ecommerce sales increased 40% for the full year

Source: IGD Research

Outlook: pushing ahead with business transformation

Walmart finished the year with good momentum, leading it to reiterate its former sales guidance. It expects sales growth of at least 3% in 2019. We expect the business to continue pushing ahead with its focus on creating a more frictionless environment for its shoppers, further combining its stores and ecommerce operations. The transition to being a tech-led business becomes more apparent each year, particularly in the US and its major international markets. While improving the profitability of its ecommerce business remains a priority, we expect to see the retailer continue investing in adjacent businesses, developing its data capabilities and building a broader ecosystem which will give rise to new revenue opportunities.

US: grocery ecommerce roll-out underpins strong performance

Walmart’s fourth quarter was underpinned by a solid performance in the US, with the business delivering its strongest comp sales growth for nine years on a two-year basis. Ecommerce sales increased 43%. The retailer benefitted from a favourable economic backdrop and the on-going roll-out if its grocery ecommerce programme. During the year it added an additional 1,000 pickup locations and took its delivery initiative to 800 locations. Walmart has launched several pilot programmes in this space including a self-driving test and a last-mile grocery delivery service, Spark Delivery.

US: expects US comps of 2.5-3.0% in 2019

Walmart also saw underlying strength in its core stores business. Food and consumables delivered a strong performance in the quarter as customers responded to its on-going pricing investments, improvements to its private brands and store remodels. For the year ahead, the business expects US comp sales to be in the 2.5-3.0% range.

International: Mexico continues to lead international growth

Walmart delivered positive comp sales growth in the three of its four largest international markets, led by its performance in Mexico. Comp sales in the country increased by 4.6% while it continued to push ahead with its accelerated opening programme, adding 45 new stores. Ecommerce sales were up by over 40% in the quarter, benefitting from the launch of same-day delivery from stores.

In Canada, comp sales were up 1.1%. While it saw strength in grocery, consumables and health and wellness, gains were partially offset by softer general merchandise sales. In the UK, comp sales increased by 1.0%, its seventh consecutive quarter of positive comp sales growth. In China, comp sales decreased by 0.2%, impacted by intensifying competition from both online and traditional retailers, slower economic growth and a shift in the timing of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

International: reshaping the global portfolio with an ecommerce lens

During the year, the retailer significantly re-shaped its international portfolio. In India, the acquisition of Flipkart became its largest deal to date, it reduced its ownership in Walmart Brazil to 20% and announced a proposed combination with Sainsbury’s in the UK. Elsewhere, it invested to develop its ecommerce operations. These included launching an online marketplace in Canada, forming a new strategic partnership with Rakuten in Japan and enhancing its last-mile delivery capabilities in Mexico and Chile with the acquisition of Cornershop. In China, it increased its investment in Dada-JD Daojia, a crowd-sourced delivery platform, and established a strategic partnership with Tencent.

Sam's Club: refocusing the business on higher incomer households

Sam’s Club continues to deliver solid comp sales growth, up 3.3% in the quarter. The business has refocused its efforts to better meet the needs of higher income households. These initiatives are resonating with its members, with membership count remaining flat to last year despite closing almost 10% of its network earlier in the year. Ecommerce sales increased 21% in the quarter, benefitting from the launch of last-mile delivery in partnership with Instacart and the conversion of four former clubs to ecommerce fulfillment centres.

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