Walmart Says Inventory is Down and $100K+ Shoppers Are Up

The country’s largest retail chain said Tuesday that its efforts to reduce inventory were paying off thanks in part to an increase in customers seeking price relief in the face of high inflation — especially more affluent households. 

For the three months that ended Oct. 31, Walmart said its Q3 worldwide revenues rose 8.7%, with the U.S. business delivering 8.2% topline growth, led by a 16% advance in its expanding digital businesses and a 30% jump in revenue at its new advertising venture.

“What you see in our results is that we can run compelling stores and clubs, scale a first- and third-party eCommerce business, and connect them together in an omnichannel fashion that saves customers and members money and time,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told analyst and investors on the company’s earnings call.  

In touting the ongoing transformation from its core fleet of 10,500 stores worldwide, McMillon said the retailer’s current strategy continues to unlock growth opportunities in what he described as a thread that runs from digital retail to fulfillment and advertising while also opening up other opportunities within health and wellness and financial services. 

“This quarter demonstrates again that we can navigate short-term challenges and build for the long term simultaneously,” he added.

Inflation and Inventories

Even prior to the earnings report, the 2% year-to-date gain in Walmart’s stock had been outperforming the market benchmarks and trouncing rival Amazon, whose shares have fallen 40% in 2022.  

That said, shareholders were pleased with the company’s increased outlook for the full year and efforts to normalize a glut of inventory and bid the shares up 7% in early trading Tuesday in a sign that its value-proposition is resonating with both investors and consumers. 

“Our purpose of saving people money has never been more important as inflation remains consistently high,” CFO John Rainey said on the call, noting that high fuel prices and mid-teens food price inflation have forced consumers to more tightly manage household budgets and show a bias in buying habits for everyday essentials.

“Walmart is well positioned to serve customers and gain greater trip frequency during tougher economic periods, and we have even more tools to do so in the cycle,” Rainey added. “For example, we’ve continued to gain grocery market share from households across income demographics, with nearly three quarters of the share gain coming from those exceeding $100,000 in annual income.”

Even so, the retailer made no change to its current holiday quarter sales guidance, saying that, despite a good start to Q4, its outlook assumes consumers would slow spending, especially in general merchandise categories. 

“Given persistent inflationary pressures in food and consumables, our guidance provides flexibility to compete in a promotional environment and also accounts for pricing action to reduce remaining excess inventory and anticipates ongoing mixed pressure for Q4,” Rainey said, in referencing a 3% comp sales growth outlook for Walmart U.S., in which food and other consumables were pegged to outpace general merchandise.

On the inventory front, the retailer’s executive team said the reductions have gotten to the point and a normalized level where they expect to no longer have to discuss the issue, saying Q3 inventory was up just 13% versus last year —  including 12.4% at Walmart U.S. — a move that represents more than a 10-percentage-point improvement versus the end of Q2.  

“Notably, about 70% of the year-over-year [inventory] increase relates to inflation,” Rainey said. “We feel good about our ability to sell through the majority of this in Q4 and expect continued year over year improvement even when including the effects of inflation.” 

In response to recent reports and questions that Walmart was refusing price increases from suppliers, McMillion said nothing has changed in how the retailer uses its global scale to get better prices. 

“We are trying to find ways with our current suppliers to get costs down, to provide value to customers and members and we’re trying to be creative about it,” McMillion said, noting that some suppliers were more aggressive and receptive than others. 

“We welcome that,” he added “[but] that’s the way we always behave” to keep prices down.

For all PYMNTS retail coverage, subscribe to the daily Retail Newsletter.