Wal-Mart Stores’ annual shareholder meeting in Fayetteville and Bentonville, Arkansas this Friday is designed to be an unabashed celebration of the world’s largest retailer and a big pep rally for its 2 million employees.
But Wal-Mart (WMT) will face investors, employees and the media at a time it is struggling to get its U.S. business thriving again, trying to build up its e-commerce, and watching the costs of a reputation-sapping bribery probe mount. Wal-Mart ranks No. 1 on the Fortune 500 for the second year in a row.
The 2014 event is expected to attract 14,000 attendees and will be first hosted by CEO Doug MacMillon, who took the reins from Mike Duke in February. Here’s what to look for at the June 6 meeting, which will be web cast at stock.walmart.com
1. Update on remedy to Walmart U.S.’s problem
McMillon and Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon are struggling to revive comparable sales in the retailer’s home market. U.S. comparable sales have fallen for five quarters in a row, hurt in big part by cuts to a food stamp program that some 20% of Walmart shoppers use to buy groceries.
Wal-Mart is trying to remedy slow sales by doubling the number of smaller new stores it originally planned to open this year. The stores help the retailer build a presence in urban areas and win business from consumers making smaller mid-week trips. Sales there are easily outpacing those of the super centers Wal-Mart is best known for. The company has also taken steps such as expanding its money wire transfer business to bring in more shoppers.
2. More acquisitions to bolster e-commerce?
Wal-Mart is trying to make up for lost time in e-commerce, which has provided it with a big, much needed boost. It now offers shoppers the ability to pick up an item ordered online at a store of their choice, and the company has been testing services such as front-of-store lockers for order pickup.
McMillon boasted earlier this month that Wal-Mart had made 12 e-commerce related acquistions in the last 3 years, including adtech firm Adchemy in May. At the Code Conference this week, McMillon said he would speed up the pace of e-commerce acquisitions without getting specific.
3. Vote on whether to keep ex-CEO, Walton, off the board
Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, is still dealing with the fallout of a probe that began in 2012 into allegations that its Mexico division, Wal-Mart de Mexico, orchestrated bribes of $24 million to help it grow quickly last decade and that top Wal-Mart executives tried to cover up those efforts.
Institutional Shareholder Services, a firm that advises large investors on how to vote, last week urged shareholders to vote against the re-election of board members Robson Walton, Wal-Mart’s chairman, and Mike Duke. ISS accused the board of failing to provide investors with more information about specific findings of a probe that has already cost it nearly $500 million.
Wal-Mart retorted in a regulatory filing by saying that being “specific” about findings into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is “contrary to the best interests of the company” and could interfere with the ongoing investigations and hurt its position in any future legal proceedings.
In any case, with the founding Walton family holding about half the voting shares, it is unlikely the company’s proposals will get shot down. But a vote against Duke and Walton would be seen as a rebuke to the company and embarrass the retailer.
4. Plan to give Sam’s Club, Walmart International a shot in the arm
Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club has been outperformed by Costco Wholesale (COST), quarter in, quarter out for some time. Rosalind Brewer will address investors on her latest efforts to revive a business that generates some 12% of company revenues. The new head of Walmart International, David Cheesewright, who replaced McMillon in that role, also is expected to tell investors how he plans to improve sales in key international markets, such as Canada and the U.K., where comp sales have been falling.
5. What pop star will perform for an arena full of Walmart employees?
Wal-Mart’s festivities kick off with a concert Wednesday, whose performers in past years have included Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé, who typically play a three-song set. The company isn’t saying who will this year’s performer will be.