Great ResignationInflationSupply ChainsLeadership

Who’s eating Walmart’s lunch? Lots of companies

May 19, 2015, 3:41 PM UTC
Shoppers wait in line to pay for their p
Photograph by Robyn Beck — AFP/Getty Images

Walmart today blamed a lot of external factors for its latest set of lackluster financial results.

Shoppers are using tax refunds and savings from lower gas prices to pay down debt instead of shopping more. The strong dollar will lower profit by $14 billion this year. The company is grappling with food deflation. And on it went.

But what the world’s largest retailer (WMT), which also owns the Sam’s Club chain and Walmart International, made little mention of was how well its many competitors are doing, performances that showcase Walmart’s shortcomings and how much work it must do to regain its past sales momentum and profit growth.

For instance, Home Depot (HD) reported that U.S. comparable sales last quarter rose 7.1%, while TJX (TJX) reported that it were up 3% at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls and 9% at Home Goods. So clearly the consumer is spending, even on apparel. In contrast, Walmart’s U.S. comparable sales (includes e-commerce but excludes stores opened or closed in the past year), rose a meager 1.1%, and at Sam’s Club, a barely detectable 0.4%.

Walmart is not sitting idly by at all, of course: it is working hard at fixing its $150 billion a year grocery business with more fresh food, investing heavily in e-commerce, and giving workers higher starting pay to improve customers service. And, to be fair, Walmart U.S. reported its third straight quarter without a comp sales decline and the number of shoppers coming into its stores is again on the rise.

But strong results elsewhere in the retail landscape show many companies are besting Walmart and quite likely, stealing some market share. For example:

1. Food stuffs. While Walmart’s smaller format Neighborhood Markets concept did well, overall grocery sales were held back by slowing rises in meat prices and actual declines in milk and produce, factors that were not specific to Walmart.

It is clear that Walmart is making progress in improving its fresh food selection, but many of its rivals are posting better numbers: grocery operator Kroger (KR) expects comparable sales to be up 3-4% this year and Publix reported comp sales were up 5.3% in its most recent quarter. What’s more Walmart will soon be facing a newly aggressive Target (TGT) on the grocery front.

“We still have a lot more to do in this area, but we’re steadily improving,” Walmart US CEO Greg Foran conceded.

2. Costco again besting Sam’s Club. Costco Wholesale (COST) has been on a years-long tear, with comparable sales excluding gas up 7% in the last 35 weeks, much better than Sam’s Club’s mediocre numbers. (Sam’s Club, which like Costco gets a lot of revenue from selling gas, reported a 0.4% increase, stripping out the impact of lower-priced gas.)

This came despite renewed efforts by Sam’s Club to add services for its business members and shore up a weak part of its business and testing services like curbside pick up of online orders.

3. E-commerce battle. E-commerce sales rose 17% last quarter, an excellent number by most standards. But (AMZN) reported U.S. sales rose 25% in its most recent quarter (the periods don’t overlap exactly). Walmart is putting a lot of money into e-commerce, currently testing a delivery subscription service similar to Amazon Prime.

But the big e-commerce investments, along with the pay hikes and expenses to improve to supply chain management, show there is a price to pay for years of under-investment, both in terms of profits and lagging strong rivals.