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11/16/2021

Will Walmart Have a Jolly Holiday Season?

Does Walmart’s inventory position and preparations set it up for a jolly Q4? Hear from experts on the retail giant’s chances for a successful holiday season.
Jamie Grill-Goodman
Senior Editor
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a group of people standing in front of a crowd
Black Friday at Walmart in 2019. Credit: Walmart.

“There's a level of excitement in the air,” Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart Inc. told analysts on its Q3 FY22 earnings call.

“You can feel it,” he said, speaking about Walmart’s preparedness for the holidays in the U.S. “I've been walking away from these stores with the recurring thought. We're ready. We have the people, the products, and the prices to deliver a great holiday season.”

Walmart reported U.S. inventory up 11.5% ahead of holidays. It announced strong third-quarter results and raised its full-year earnings guidance for the third consecutive quarter.

“Walmart has certainly set the bar high for the slew of retail earnings reports that are set to come out over the next couple of weeks,” Philip Melson, client partner at Fractal Analytics, tells RIS. “There has understandably been tremendous concern around how the retail industry was going to perform over the end of year period due to the supply chain snarl up the world is currently marred in, ongoing labor concerns and inflation. However, it seems as if Walmart’s bets on expanding its omnichannel experience, early ordering seasonal stock and even chartering its own ships have helped the company weather the storm and find success. Of course, the true test is set to come as holiday shopping ramps up to full speed, however, it does appear as if Walmart is well-prepared to take on what is set to be one of the most challenging holiday periods we have ever seen.”

To reach its current inventory, Walmart made a few moves that helped it in the quarter, including ensuring it was “forecasting appropriately and then managing the labor across each and every piece of the supply chain,” said president and CEO of Walmart U.S. John Furner. “Certainly, there were pressures all along the way," he noted.

Walmart’s Q3 FY22 Highlights

  • Total revenue up 4.3% to $140.53 billion.
  • Walmart U.S. e-commerce sales grew 8% for the quarter and 87% on a two-year stack.
  • Walmart’s U.S. comparable sales (excluding fuel) grew 9.2% in the quarter.
  • Sam’s Club’s comp sales increased 13.9%, and 25% on a two-year stack. The club retailer’s e-commerce sales grew 32%. Membership income increased 11.3%, the fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.
  • Consolidated gross profit rate decreased 42 basis points, due to increased supply chain costs, a higher mix of lower margin fuel business in the U.S. and a shifting international format mix.
  • Walmart U.S. inventory up 11.5% ahead of holidays

“The steps taken to mitigate transit and port delays have positioned us well, including adding extra lead time to orders, chartering vessels for Walmart goods, rerouting deliveries to less congested ports, and expanding overnight hours at key U.S. ports,” said Brett Biggs, EVP and CFO.

[See more: Target, Levi’s, Walmart and More Battle Supply Chain Disruptions]

The efforts are paying off as Black Friday approches. “Positive news for holiday shoppers in that the large U.S. retailer reported an increase in inventory of 11.5% as supply remains more of a concern than the reduced discounts likely to be on offer this year,” analyst Richard Snow of DailyFX.com, tells RIS.

Mastercard Spendingpulse data suggests that U.S. retail sales over the Thanksgiving weekend alone will rise 10% from last year and by over 12% from the same week in 2019, as pent-up consumer demand continues into the start of the holiday period. Positive sales numbers will only show up in the earnings data for Q4 which is likely to be strong as the holiday period brings the year to a close.”

Walmart is seeing inflationary cost pressures in some areas, Biggs noted on the call, but its merchants remain “laser-focused” on taking steps to mitigate supply chain congestion, while “working with suppliers and monitoring price sketch to manage margins appropriately.” Lower markdowns and advertising revenue have helped offset cost pressures, he said.

“As Walmart has become one of the largest retailers in the U.S., it will need to ensure they have enough products for their consumers to complete holiday shopping,” Eli Finkelshteyn, CEO and founder of Constructor, tells RIS“With its e-commerce site, it can encourage sales of products in the search and discovery process based on inventory availability both in stores and in warehouses, to decrease the likelihood of anything running out. With a comprehensive, thorough search and discovery strategy that is aligned with the company's goals, retailers can manipulate their e-commerce platforms to show high stock items that match a customer’s interest over low in-stock items that they may have initially thought they wanted.”

Walmart will likely double-down on tactics such as this as it approaches the holidays. The retailer is using an machine learning and artificial intelligence to do a number of different things, Furner said, including predictive baskets, smart substitution, and its AI-empowered in-stock assistant. Walmart's U.S. e-commerce sales grew 8% for the quarter and 87% on a two-year stack.

To boost digital engagement, the retailer  is offering shoppers several connected commerce experiences this holiday season through its “Joy. Fully” campaign, including tapping facial-recognition technology, shoppable livestreaming, and shoppable experiences on Pinterest.

[See more: Walmart Taps Facial-Recognition Tech for New Retail Experience]

“Despite recent supply chain challenges, consumers are continuing to embrace online shopping habits and Walmart’s Q3 success is a prime example,” Brent Ramos, director of product, search at Adswerve, tells RIS. “From shoppable live streams this holiday season to sponsored recipes on social media platforms and upgrading its online holiday delivery services, Walmart has been able to drive a constant stream of traffic and engagement to its site and app.

“Earlier this quarter, the retailer also launched Walmart Luminate, a new system that analyzes data from Walmart’s massive hub of consumers and offers insights into audience behavior, perception and channel performance for the various brands at Walmart. It is this type of consumer-centric engagement and alignment with respecting data privacy that has sparked greater brand awareness for Walmart, positive Q3 results and a bright outlook for the end of 2021.”

Walmart announced it expects Walmart U.S. Q4 comp sales of around 5%. For the full year, it expects earnings per share of $5.00 and adjusted earnings per share of $6.40, up from its previous guidance of $6.20 to $6.35, and U.S. comp sales growth (excluding fuel) of 6%.

“The business model's changing, the digital transformation's underway, this is a different company than it was, and we've got a lot of runways in front of us,” said McMillon.