Walmart on Tuesday lowered its earnings predictions for fiscal year 2019, adjusting for the financial impact of its biggest-ever, hard-fought acquisition: Flipkart, an Indian online retailer. But the company’s outlook for 2020 is optimistic.
Walmart bought a 77 percent controlling stake in Flipkart for $16 billion earlier this year. The deal was the biggest in Walmart’s history, as the company staked its claim in the lucrative Indian market, which boasts 1.3 billion people and a fast-growing economy.
Acquiring Flipkart was a key move for Walmart as it continues to battle with Amazon.com for its share of the e-commerce market, a rivalry that escalated when Walmart bought Jet.com for $3.3 billion in August 2016. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The number of visitors to Walmart’s website has grown 34 percent in the past year, double the 17 percent growth rate at Amazon, according to data from ComScore. But Walmart is coming from behind: Amazon had an online audience of nearly 183 million visitors in April, compared with Walmart’s 101 million.
Walmart lowered its forecast for adjusted earnings per share to $4.65 to $4.80 from an estimated range of $4.90 to $5.05. Refinitiv, a Thomson & Reuters company that estimates financial risk for investors, predicted Walmart’s adjusted earnings to be $4.79 per share.
The forecast cuts are no surprise, given Flipkart’s high price tag, said eMarketer analyst Andrew Lipsman. But the investment in the Indian e-commerce market is worthwhile, he said, and comes at a great moment for India’s economy, which has been historically cash-focused.
“Anyone who was going to acquire Flipkart knew it would take time for the investment to pay off,” Lipsman said. “But the Indian e-commerce market is much further along. . . . It’s much more ready for something like this to happen than it was five or 10 years ago.”
For fiscal year 2020, the company predicts U.S. sales growth will jump 3 percent or more and U.S. same-store sales growth to rise between 2.5 percent and 3 percent. Walmart estimates its net international sales growth will be around 5 percent, including the positive effect of Flipkart and the damage from the deconsolidation of Walmart Brazil.
Walmart also said it is planning to open more than 300 new stores abroad next year, focusing on China, Mexico and Central America.
News of the lowered forecast occurred the same day the company held a shareholders meeting where executives offered a vision of the company’s future. In the coming years, Walmart’s business will be much more personalized and focused on customers' online experiences, with an eye on emerging markets and wealthier consumers, company leaders said.
Chief customer officer Janey Whiteside focused on the chain’s efforts to court higher-end consumers by offering brands that are new to Walmart, such as plus-size clothing brand Eloquii, menswear line Bonobos and online indie clothing retailer ModCloth. Drawing in millennials, particularly those with higher incomes who live in urban environments, is crucial, Whiteside said.
“Our customer set is widening,” Whiteside said. “As we build omnichannel convenience and add new brands and services we will continue to lean into that.”
Marc Lore, president of Walmart e-commerce (and founder of Jet.com), told investors that offering more premium brands is crucial to attracting these new customers, as are recent changes to Walmart.com aimed at making the site more modern and personalized. Same-day delivery is also integral to the company’s online strategy, Lore said, estimating that 40 percent of Americans will have access to same-day delivery from Walmart in the coming year.
Both Lore and Whiteside hinted at the future of conversational commerce: a shopping experience in which customers chat with employees (or AI-driven representatives) online for product recommendations. Already, Walmart’s concierge-style shopping service, Jetblack, offers text recommendations, ordering and same-day delivery to customers in Manhattan.
“I do think this is the future of the way people are going to shop,” Lore said.
The avalanche of new acquisitions is a shrewd way for Walmart to harness the power of its brick-and-mortar stores while beefing up its e-commerce business, Moody’s analyst Charles O’Shea said.
“We don’t know where the online tree stops going, and for the foreseeable future you’re still going to see the vast majority of retail done in a store,” he said. “It gives the brick-and-mortar guys a colossal advantage.”