Walmart ($NYSE:WMT) just posted disappointing earnings, having missed analysts' estimates and forecasting a slow fiscal 2021.
"The fourth quarter wasn't out best," Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC after the company announced its results Tuesday morning February 18.
But one reported number is perhaps the most interesting, telling, and positive for Walmart: e-commerce sales in the past quarter were up 35%, and annual e-commerce growth of 37%, beating its own target of 35%.
Pair these numbers with what we're seeing in Walmart's hiring data, and it's pretty clear that the world's largest retailer has its future pinned on e-commerce as opposed to retail. And while Walmart employs an estimated 2.2 million associates around the world, job listings at the company's recruiting website tumbled last year, with a clear slowdown in logistical hires in the past quarter.
In just the past year, the number of unique job listings at Walmart's recruiting websites dropped from 3,790 to just 989 as of last week — a decline of 74%. The massive slowdown in new openings dovetails with reports of future job cuts as part of the company's "Great Workplace" program that will have current employees competing with new applicants for fewer jobs.
While Walmart executives call the "Great Workplace" program the "key to winning the future of retail", it appears to be a thinly veiled layoff program. According to The Washington Post, Walmart employees will be asked to apply, interview, and test for new positions for, as we show here, a dwindling number of openings.
The nature of new openings at Walmart has changed in the past quarter, an early sign that the company is moving away from traditional retail openings and more toward a future-focused on e-commerce, data, and logistics, quite similar to how Amazon is already structured.
In the past quarter, for instance, listings with the term "brand" have become common, as have jobs with the term "front end" in them, signaling a focus on streamlining and improving Walmart.com's user experience.
In other words, Walmart will spend much of 2020 transforming itself from its roots as a big-box retailer at every other corner, and more into an e-commerce operation that delivers goods within days — even hours. Walmart's future as an Amazon competitor is pretty clear in this case.
However, Walmart has an advantage, as McMillon points out: "There's a Walmart within 10 miles of 90% of Americans, within five miles of 70% of Americans and fully half of the U.S. population is within just three miles of a Walmart. That's a unique position, and we're taking advantage of it."
Amazon spent much of its first twenty years expanding its logistical operations, opening warehouses and fulfillment centers as close to customers as possible. As a result, Amazon shoppers came to appreciate the convenience of next-day and same-day deliveries that the growing physical outlay of the company allowed.
Walmart's ubiquity, as pointed out by McMillon, gives it a strikingly similar presence and logistical network to that of Amazon, and perhaps even some advantages in that it continues to have a customer-facing retail presence, something that Amazon is scrambling to build via acquisitions like Whole Foods and new operations like Amazon 4-Star. It has also made moves to partner with extant retail outlets like Rite Aid and Kohl's via its Counter program, but that's a far cry from the big-box warehouse retail centers that Walmart boasts.
The question — and the one Walmart appears to be seeking to answer — is whether or not it can transform its 20th-century makeup into one that can properly compete with the likes of Amazon.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.