Grocery Retailer of the Year: Walmart
From carefully guarding its price leadership to aggressively expanding its e-commerce capabilities, Walmart made savvy investments on a scale that other supermarket competitors couldn't match in 2017.
Number of locations:
11,723 worldwide (4,692 Walmarts in the U.S., 662 Sam's Clubs in the U.S.)
Number of locations with grocery pickup:
More than 1,000
Best known for:
Using its size to keep prices low
Being the world’s largest retailer has its advantages, but it’s the way Walmart is using its size that makes it tops in today's grocery industry. From carefully guarding its price leadership to aggressively expanding its e-commerce capabilities, Walmart is making savvy investments on a scale that other supermarket competitors can’t match.
On price, Walmart is determined to be the industry leader in markets throughout the country. One executive noted earlier this year that the retailer wants to be 15% less expensive than its competitors, 80% of the time.
To this end, Walmart has leaned on its suppliers and invested heavily in price discounts. According to Wolfe Research, a basket of groceries at Philadelphia area stores was 5.8% cheaper than a year ago, while stores surveyed in Atlanta were 4.9% less expensive and Southern California locations were 2.7% lower. With this, Walmart has put significant pressure on traditional retailers like Kroger, which has seen its stock price tumble by a third over the course of this year. It has also kept pace with fast-growing Aldi and Lidl, shoring up loyalty with customers who might otherwise defect to the smaller, private-label focused discounters.
But it’s not all about price for Walmart. The retailer is investing in its stores and focusing on product quality, too. This year, Walmart will spend around $1.6 billion on store remodels. Since 2010, it’s doubled its supply of locally grown produce.
“It starts with assortment,” Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and CEO, said during a presentation at a consumer and retail technology conference earlier this year. “We’ve got to make sure that the quality of our merchandise is right, not just the price.”
Private label is becoming an increasingly important part of this equation. This might seem at odds with Walmart’s focus on national brands, but it’s right in line with the company’s focus on low prices, efficiency and delivering on consumer demand. This fall, Walmart unveiled Sam’s Choice Italia, a line extension of its popular Sam’s Choice brand that features 40 items, from salad dressings to pasta sauces and boxed dinners. That preceded the release of Uniquely J, a line of stylishly packaged home goods and groceries offered through Walmart’s Jet.com site.
Just as Walmart had the foresight to lay the groundwork for its price leadership a few years back, the company has also moved quickly to capitalize on growing demand for online shopping. Walmart currently offers free curbside pickup at roughly a thousand stores, and plans to double that number over the course of next year. It has also grown its assortment of goods available through Walmart.com as well as on Jet.com, including its Uniquely J grocery brand.
By the numbers
Number of stores projected to offer curbside pickup by end of 2018
Average distance 90% of Americans live from a Walmart store
Amount spend on e-commerce acquisitions so far
Percentage by which Walmart expects to grow its e-commerce sales next year
These efforts, along with expanded delivery options and other perks, boosted Walmart’s e-commerce sales 60% in the most recent financial quarter
According to industry analysts, Walmart has taken a leading role in an under-penetrated online grocery market. Its click-and-collect program has drawn new customers, while experiments with home delivery, pickup kiosks and other technology signal the Bentonville-based retailer is one of the few — if not the only — legitimate competitors to Amazon and its grocery ambitions.
Barclays analyst Karen Short said Walmart’s expertise in grocery and significant store footprint give it an edge over Amazon.
“Food is a much more difficult business than general merchandise, particularly due to the complexity of building a safe and cost efficient perishable supply chain,” she wrote in a recent note to investors. “Walmart has a significant head start in this business, and Amazon cannot match the breadth of its store locations which are within 10 miles of 90% of Americans.”
Likewise, Bill Bishop, a longtime grocery consultant and chief architect of Brick Meets Click, said Walmart is smartly using its 4,600 store locations to reach as many shoppers as possible. Store pickup is convenient for many consumers, he said, and the company should be able to capitalize on fast delivery, being on a few miles away from many customers.
“[Walmart] is looking at every possible way to leverage the advantage of its physical store network to work with online,” Bishop told Food Dive.
Walmart’s price investments and e-commerce expansion have encroached on profits, but it's gaining market share, with traffic up 1.3% and comp-store sales up for the tenth straight quarter, the company reported during its most recent quarter. Indeed, the world’s largest retailer continues to grow amidst unprecedented industry disruptions, and many don’t see its momentum slowing down any time soon.
“Its strategy suggests to us that it is breaking away from the pack of mediocrity among many other retailers, enabled by its substantial asset base,” wrote Short.
Expect Walmart to make more big changes retailerwide, ranging from price, selection, delivery and pickup, as it tries to retain dominance — especially over Amazon-Whole Foods.
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