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02/23/2022

Walmart Deepens Loyalty Program After Topping Earnings Estimates

Walmart beat estimates in its latest earnings report as the retailer pushes its loyalty program.
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Walmart storefront

The world’s largest retailer’s fourth quarter 2021 earnings beat analysts expectations, pushing the company to reiterate its forecast for 2022. Walmart credited the higher earnings to increased sales, more trips to stores and online visits as well as higher prices.

Earnings Highlights

 

Walmart reported its U.S. comparable sales were up 6.4% in 2021 compared to the previous year and up 15% on a two-year stack. U.S. e-commerce sales rose 11% in 2021 and a whopping 90% on a two-year stack. Total revenue was $572.8 billion, up 2.4%, for the year.

Sam’s Club also had a good year, with comparative sales rising 9.8% for the year, and 21.6% on a two-year stack. Membership income rose 11.3%. 

The company did not share how many Walmart+ members it has during the earnings call. Walmart+ is the retailer’s loyalty program which offers members unique benefits for an annual fee. 

“Walmart Plus is important,” Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart, said during the earnings call. “It helps us grow our e-commerce business. It helps us deepen the relationship with customers and have more data. And at some point, we'll probably talk about that number.”

Walmart executives also dove into the inflation, which topped 7% over the past year, according to January data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“During periods of inflation like this, middle-income families, lower middle-income families, even wealthier families become more price sensitive,” McMillon said. “And that’s to our advantage.”

Some data suggests the rising cost of grocery items are causing shoppers to shift their behaviors. At the very least, most (82%) of consumers are noticing higher price tags, according to a recent survey from 84.51°, the retail data science, insights and media business of Kroger. The price hikes are causing some shoppers to skimp on meat and seafood, either buying cheaper cuts or buying less meat entirely. 

However, Walmart CFO Brett Biggs hasn’t seen consumer behaviors change much. 

“We haven’t seen any marked changes at this point in how they’re shopping,” Biggs told CNBC in an interview. … “We do know, we’ve seen and we heard through our own studies that people are certainly focused on inflation and they’re seeing that in their daily lives.”

New Shopping Event

 

While Walmart didn’t divulge how many members it has in its Walmart+ loyalty program, the retailer is pushing new exclusive benefits for members. Just days after announcing its quarterly earnings, Walmart promoted a new shopping event geared toward loyalty members.

Starting February 24, Walmart+ members will have access to a special online shopping event. Members can save up to 40% on hundreds of items on Walmart.com, spanning gaming, electronics, fitness, home and apparel categories. Trial members of Walmart+ are excluded from the sales event.

The event builds on Walmart’s push to grow its loyalty program, which it debuted in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many retail experts saw the move as a response to Amazon’s Prime membership, and Walmart is positioning the February shopping event to be like Black Friday for its members.

“Walmart’s plan for a Walmart+ members-only event is a great strategy to build and ensure the success of their loyalty program,” Keith Nealon, CEO of Bazaarvoice, said in an emailed statement to Retail Leader. “Offering an exclusive opportunity like this makes their members feel excited, appreciated, and will ultimately increase their sense of loyalty. For Walmart, the benefit is even greater: 57% of shoppers spend more with the brands that they feel a sense of loyalty to.”

Bazaarvoice is a technology company that offers brands and retailers the ability to create smarter shopper experiences across the entire customer journey.

Walmart+ is similarly priced to Amazon’s Prime membership at $98 per year, or $12.95 a month. Amazon recently raised the rate of its annual Prime membership from $119 to $139. Walmart+ members receive free next-day and two-day shipping on most items, without a basket minimum. However, grocery orders require a $35 order minimum. 

“The pandemic made customer loyalty harder to come by than ever for a variety of reasons, and holding exclusive events such as this one is a great way to convince members (and potential members) that their subscription is worth it,” Nealon said. “And, as more and more brands and retailers roll out their loyalty programs, lucrative offerings like this are also a perfect differentiator.”