US retail news roundup: Walmart, Costco, Amazon, Ulta, Home Depot, Lowe’s

As we move into summer, it’s time to take a look at the latest retail news and what’s ahead for  the rest of the year. It’s not a very positive picture for job losses but this retail news roundup is surprisingly upbeat in the middle of plenty of negative news. First though, Cornerstone research predicts six million to 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk due to automation and 73% of the jobs lost will be women. On the other hand Progressive AmazonFresh store launches in Seattle.Policy Institute says, since the end of 2007, e-commerce added 397,000 jobs nationwide. Popular analyst Mary Meeker predicts as many as 7,000 retail store closures this year, and noted Amazons growing market share in key product categories including batteries (30%) and baby wipes (15%).

Fueled by several savvy acquisitions, Walmart’s e-commerce sales jumped 63%, as same-store sales increased 1.4% and traffic to stores rose 1.5%. Warehouse club giant Costco’s net income jumped 28%, to $700 million in the quarter ended May 7. Earnings per share of $1.59 topped analysts’ predictions of $1.31. Last week, Amazon opened its AmazonFresh Pick grocery store in Seattle and is watching to see how builds for the pickup grocery concept.

Beauty retailer Ulta posted positive sales growth of 14. 3% percent in its recent quarter beating many competitors in the beauty care category while it’s e-commerce sales rose and even more impressive 50%. Even electronics retailer Best Buy chipped in 1.6% growth in sales in its first quarter for 2017. Home Improvement stores Home Depot and Lowe’s showed solid sales increases of 5% and 12.7% respectively in their first quarters, in large part due to successfully managing omni-channel sales.

Sales fell 12.4% but Sears reported its first profit in its first quarter in two years while K-Mart also saw sales drop 11.2%. As same store sales fell 14.1%, apparel and accessories retailer Michael Kors said it expects to close up to 125 stores in the next two years in order to cut costs.

6 to 7.5 Million US Retail Jobs at Risk Due to Automation

Retail recovery soon?“The retail landscape is changing rapidly and investors need to understand the social and governance issues impacting valuations for public companies in this sector,” said Erika Karp, Cornerstone founder and chief executive officer. “Retailers are facing a perfect storm: they need to balance demand for wage increases with the negative optics of future job losses. The winners in retail will be companies that provide recruitment, retention and training for workers and innovate with forward-thinking future store strategies.”

Among the report’s findings:

– Some 36% of retail workers currently receive some form of public assistance and the average retail worker is age 38. Contrary to perceptions, 71% of retail workers are full-time employees.
– Of the 30 companies analyzed in this report, most are considering the use of in-store technology such as mobile devices, self-checkout, digital kiosks and proximity beacons. In addition, sensor-based checkouts and smart shelves are a growing technology, as found in Amazon Go stores.
– The report indicates that Walmart and other large retailers have greater market share in communities with less than 500,000 people. If employment trends correlate to market share location, retail automation by retailers could disproportionately impact these smaller communities. Via

Mary Meeker: Store closures could break a 20-year record, reach 7K this year store closures could break a 20-year record, even as Amazon and other once pure-play e-commerce companies open brick-and-mortar locations, according to Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers General Partner Mary Meeker’s widely anticipated trends report, which she unveiled Wednesday at Recode and Vox Media’s Code Conference. Meeker estimates retail closures will near 7,000 this year alone.

Meeker also reported that Amazon is also becoming a key supplier of household basics batteries and baby wipes, with the e-commerce giant outselling Duracell, Energizer and Panasonic and just third behind baby-goods giants Pampers and Huggies. Amazon enjoys more than 30% market share in batteries and more than 15% market share in baby wipes. She also noted Wal-Mart’s aggressive online push, including its acquisition of Jet and smaller online retailers like ModCloth and Moosejaw.

Some of the most innovative direct-to-consumer retailers, particularly in pet care, footwear and beauty, are targeting customers with content and a narrow selection of products, which Meeker highlighted as “innovative product + simple selection (less selection) = more.” In all, year-over-year e-commerce growth is exceeding 15% this year, she said. Via

From Amazon to Wal-Mart, digital retail is producing more jobs and higher pay trade is one of the biggest job sectors in America, and the majority of those workers still clock in at brick-and-mortar stores. But the big growth is coming from e-commerce, which happens to pay a lot better, too.

This is a promising development for retail workers who worry about thousands of store closings and the march of automation. E-commerce also offers a potential antidote to years of low productivity growth and income stagnation.

“If this new pattern continues, it will raise real wages across the economy and rejuvenate the middle class,” said a report by economist Michael Mandel of the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. Via

Why Wal-Mart is betting big on e-commerce acquisitions payoff has been swift: In its most recent quarter, Wal-Mart’s e-commerce sales ballooned 63% with an attendant 69% rise in digital gross merchandise volume, as same-store sales increased 1.4% and traffic to stores rose 1.5%. But the new numbers that Wal-Mart is delivering in the digital space aren’t just thanks to Jet or its widely heralded pricing algorithm. The brick-and-mortar stalwart, with Jet founder Marc Lore at the helm as its new U.S. e-commerce chief, has also been gobbling up pure-play specialty retailers at a rapid clip.

Shortly before Wal-Mart’s takeover, Jet picked up Nebraska-based furniture e-retailer Hayneedle, which is now in the Wal-Mart fold. And just after the holidays last year, Wal-Mart bought online shoe retailer Shoebuy, in a challenge to Amazon’s Zappos, for $70 million.

Then in February, the company shelled out $51 million in cash for online outdoor retailer Moosejaw, and in March it ponied up another “$40 and $60 million” for vintage-inspired online women’s apparel Modcloth (possibly half the $80 million the startup had collected from investors).

Last month, reports began to surface that Wal-Mart is in discussions to acquire menswear site Bonobos, one of the few pure-play e-commerce sites reporting profits. (A Wal-Mart spokesperson declined to comment on the Bonobos rumor.) Around the same time, Wal-Mart paid $9 million for the web address alone of now-defunct Canadian online shoe retailer, just for the opportunity to redirect straggling customers to its Shoebuy site. Why Wal-Mart is betting big on e-commerce acquisitions | Retail Dive

Blowout quarter for Costco Wholesale Corp. came roaring back in its third quarter as it topped analysts’ earnings and sales expectations amid strong U.S. sales.

After missing Street estimates for earnings and revenue in its second quarter, Costco returned to form in its third quarter. The warehouse club giant’s net income jumped 28%, to $700 million in the quarter ended May 7. Earnings per share of $1.59 topped analysts’ predictions of $1.31 per share. Excluding items, Costco earned $1.40 per share, still more than expected. The company recorded a tax benefit of 19 cents per share related to a special cash dividend announced in April.

Net sales rose 8% to a better-than-expected $28.22 billion in the quarter. Total same-store sales rose 5%, with a 6% increase in the United States, also more than anticipated. Via

AmazonFresh Pickup goes live in Seattle on Thursday announced that its AmazonFresh Pickup concept is now open to Amazon Prime customers in Seattle, according to an email from a spokesperson sent to Retail Dive.

The service is free and exclusive to the company’s Prime members, who can reserve a time for pickup with as little notice as 15 minutes and no minimum order.

Amazon employees “carefully select groceries,” according to the announcement, bag them and bring them out to customers waiting in their cars at specially designed Amazon Fresh stations. Via

In an ugly quarter for retailers, Ulta’s story is a thing of beauty Beauty just reported what many are calling another stellar quarter. The beauty retailer continues to outshine struggling peers by doing a few key things right — drawing millennials to its stores, growing an impressive e-commerce business, playing up brand partnerships and rolling out fun and innovative product lines.

“We think the market continues to drastically underestimate the duration of growth for this better-mouse-trap, category-killer retailer,” Evercore ISI analyst Omar Saad wrote in a note to clients.

“Ulta has decisively won the trust and reliance of essentially all the top brands in the beauty industry, and the company still has a significantly undersized store footprint,” Saad continued. Via

Best Buy reports Q1 2017 earnings unexpected surge of shoppers spending their tax refunds on electronics helped boost Best Buy to a first-quarter earnings surprise, but sustaining that momentum in the current retail environment will be anything but easy.

Best Buy showed signs in the latest quarter that it has the right formula to go up against Amazon, as more shoppers ring up their purchases online.

The electronics retailer had warned in March that same-store sales could fall by 1 to 2 percent during the latest period, but on Thursday Best Buy reported growth of 1.6 percent at its established locations. Analysts were expecting a 1.5 percent decline, according to Thomson Reuters estimates. Via

Home Depot, Lowe’s flex omnichannel strength improvement retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s have made significant strides to smooth out omnichannel strategies to enable shoppers to do things like pick up and return online orders in their brick-and-mortar locations and to gain visibility into inventory across multiple store locations, Digital Commerce 360 reports.

Home Depot CEO Craig Menear stated on a recent earnings call that more than 45% of the retailer’s online orders are picked up in one of its physical stores, while Lowe’s said in a recent SEC filing that about 60% of its online orders are picked up in store and 40% of shoppers picking up such orders also make other unrelated in-store purchases when they arrive for pick-up, according to the report.

Both retailers also have been aggressively putting mobile technology in the hands of their store associates. Lowe’s for example, has six different mobile apps that might be used while helping a customer in-store, and Home Depot has made sure its associates use the retailer’s mobile app while helping customers to ensure they are seeing the same pricing and availability that customers are seeing. Via

Sears Q1 sales fall 20% but posts first quarterly profit in two years amid cuts was a glimmer of good news in Sears Holdings Corp.’s first quarter earnings report.

The embattled retailer reported its first quarterly profit since 2015, which it attributed largely to the sale of its Craftsman brand, and lower expenses due to its $1.25 billion cost-cutting plan. Sears posted net income of $244 million in the quarter ended April 29, compared with a loss of $471 million in the year-ago period. However, Sears posted a loss of $230 million when adjusted for special items, compared with a loss of $199 million a year earlier.

On the revenue side, Sears continues to bleed. Revenue fell 20.3% to $4.3 billion in the quarter, down from $5.4 billion last year. The retailer said the year-over-year decline was primarily driven by having fewer Kmart and Sears full-line stores in operation as well as an 11.9% drop in same-store sales.

Same-store sales at Sears stores fell 12.4% and 11.2% at Kmart. The decline at Sears were attributed to falling sales of home appliances, apparel, and lawn and garden items. Kmart declines were attributed to weakness in grocery and household items, pharmacy, apparel, and home categories. Via

Michael Kors to shutter up to 125 stores in next 2 years Kors on Wednesday said it will shutter between 100 and 125 of its full-price stores over the next two years in order to improve the profitability of its store fleet. As a result, the company expects to incur between $100 million and $125 million of one-time costs, but anticipates annual savings of $60 million, according to a company press release.

Also on Wednesday the apparel and accessories retailer reported fourth quarter revenue fell 11.2% to $1.06 billion, edging out an analyst forecast cited by Reuters for $1.05 billion. Same-store sales in the quarter fell 14.1% missing the Consensus Metrix estimate cited by Reuters for a 13.4% decline. Q4 direct-to-consumer same-store sales including e-commerce fell 14.1% or 13.6% on a constant-currency basis, the company said. Q4 wholesale net sales fell 22.8% to $456.1 million or 22.3% on a constant currency basis, while licensing revenue fell 6.2% to $33.4 million.

The company reported a quarterly net loss of $26.8 million, or 17 cents per share, down from net income of $177 million, or 98 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Excluding $193.8 million of non-cash impairment charges primarily associated with underperforming full-price retail stores, Q4 earnings were 73 cents per share, besting analyst expectations cited by Reuters for 70 cents per share. Via