As shareholder meeting ends, Walmart ponders retail's future
Walmart's annual week of shareholder events came to a close on Friday as 14,000 Walmart employees gathered at the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for a morning of company highlights, morale boosting and music performances from Carly Rae Jepsen and Cassadee Pope.
Following an introduction by singer and actor Jamie Foxx, executives took the stage to highlight company milestones. Notably, Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs told attendees that Walmart U.S. has had its highest comparable sales in nine years, Sam's Club sales growth is up 3% and the company increased its dividends for shareholders for the 45th consecutive year. In the last year, the company also hit $500 billion in revenue.
"We're moving faster than ever before, and moving fast has never been more important," Marc Lore, head of Walmart e-commerce, told the crowd on Friday, adding that e-commerce grew 44% last year and is on track to grow 40% this year.
This year would have been Walmart founder Sam Walton's 100th birthday. It's a nostalgic detail that Walmart executives celebrated during the final event of the company's annual shareholders meeting. Yet, executives also said they recognize that retail is changing — and so should Walmart.
That means experimenting with new investments that for the retail giant are atypical, to say the least — like offering a text-based shopping concierge service for wealthy New York City moms. Jennifer Fleiss, CEO of Jetblack, Walmart's first startup to rise up from its Store No. 8 incubation arm, also took the stage to talk about the future of text- and voice-based shopping services powered by Walmart.
With new priorities fueled by emerging technology on the horizon, executives also said they realize that not all current jobs will exist in the future. And that means the company has to step up to train employees for new skills and jobs that don't yet exist.
"No matter who you are and where you are in your career, this is where opportunity is here for you," Sam's Club President and CEO John Furner told associates at the event. While Walmart might not be commonly seen as an employer of choice, executives are hoping to develop that reputation with help from a new educational benefit program, among other initiatives.
Earlier this week, Walmart announced it will begin paying for associates to earn associate's and bachelor's degrees in business and supply chain management from University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University. Through the program, which is anticipated to draw in 68,000 employees in the first five years, associates pay $1 a day toward educational expenses until they graduate.
According to a report following the shareholders week from Daniel Binder, an equity analyst with Jefferies, the clear takeaway is that Walmart executives are continuing to "focus intensely on improving the customer experience and operational efficiencies" — and that takes time and money.
Binder said he is encouraged by Walmart's plans to develop two-day delivery, especially as it relates to its use of Smart Cart technology, which is a big part of speeding up its logistics network. That part of the business is a increasingly important as Walmart takes aim at Amazon.
This story has been updated.
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