Walmart Loses Ground To Amazon in E-Commerce Battle

February 18, 2016, 3:23 PM UTC
Photograph by ROBYN BECK

Walmart (WMT) pulled out all the stops during the Christmas period to try to keep up with (AMZN).

The world’s largest retailer did everything to gin up e-commerce sales, from starting its Black Friday sales online on the morning of Thanksgiving, to turning Cyber Monday into Cyber Sunday, to having an upgraded mobile app that helped shoppers do things like alert a store they were coming in to pick up an order.

But the retailer, the second largest e-commerce player in the world, has only modest gains to show for its efforts: global e-commerce sales rose 8% in the fourth quarter that ran from November to January. That was the company’s lowest pace yet. (To be fair, much of the decline was attributable to sluggishness in Britain, China, and Brazil. Walmart doesn’t break out its U.S. figures.)

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon put it succinctly when he said on a pre-recorded call, “We need more [GMV: gross merchandise value] growth from our e-commerce businesses.”

It’s not like Walmart is sitting on its thumbs. The retailer is planning to keep expanding its online assortment. (By the holiday season, it was offering some 10 million different kinds of items, compared to 7 million in June and 700,000 just a few years ago. Still, that is a fraction of Amazon’s 250 million-item selection.)

The retail giant has also expanded the number of stores where shoppers can pick up grocery orders placed online to 150 in 20 markets, from 140 locations a few months earlier. The company is also launching its own Walmart Pay mobile payment system later this year.

Walmart Global E-Commerce CEO Neil Ashe said that the company saw a nearly 40% jump in the number of online orders shoppers picked up in store during the holiday season, which contributed to a 1.7% jump in shopper traffic, a bigger increase than the comparable sales rise of 0.6%.

Ashe told reporters at a media briefing that had matched or even beaten the overall U.S. e-commerce growth rates in the first three quarters of the year. But he was coy about how well Walmart was fending off, with its 20%+ increases. (Some Wall Street analysts estimate that the pure-play online retailer alone generated half of overall e-commerce growth in the United States. Overall digital sales during the holiday season were up about 10%. Walmart’s quarter includes January.)

When asked whether Amazon was leaving its rivals in the dust, Ashe didn’t address the question directly, instead suggesting that was more about giving Walmart customers more options.

“We’re really focused on building the customer relationship with Walmart, whether it’s on the app, the site or in the store so we can be there for the customer to grow with her as she wants and needs,” Ashe told Fortune.