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Lots of coverage of Walmart's annual meeting in Arkansas on Friday, and here are a couple of the highlights ...

• The Associated Press reports that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon "urged employees ... to reimagine its future in a fast-shifting retail landscape ... We want to make every day easier for busy families. We're connecting all the parts of Wal-Mart into one seamless shopping experience with great stores, easy pickup, fast delivery and apps and websites that are simple to use."

The story notes that "Wal-Mart emphasized ways in which it's working to be more nimble.
The company is spending money on its stores and its staff. It's in the second year of a $2.7 billion investment in training and higher wages, with the goal of making Wal-Mart a place people want to be."

However, while Walmart's financial performance has improved and stands out in comparison to that of other retailers, the AP writes that "red flags have appeared have as Wal-Mart digs in to fend off Amazon.com. Overall revenue in the fiscal year ended in January declined slightly to $478.6 billion, excluding revenue from membership fees and other income. That's the first annual drop since the company went public 45 years ago." And, "Wal-Mart's e-commerce growth has slowed dramatically even as it escalates investment there. Global e-commerce sales growth slowed to 7 percent during the first quarter, a notable downturn from nearly 30 percent two years ago."

Walmart is responding to these challenges, the AP, by putting more of an emphasis on price, "sprucing up stores," and dramatically expanding online options, including more grocery availability, a greater number of pickup sites, and a test of delivery via Deliv, Uber and Lyft.


• The New York Times has a story about how while Walmart workers "have something to cheer about" since average hourly pay has gone up since "Walmart announced early last year that it would increase wages to at least $10 an hour for its army of part-time and full-time workers."

But ... "employees more critical of the company say Walmart — the biggest private employer in the United States — has found more subtle ways to keep the reins on its workers’ paychecks. The retailer has cut merit raises, for example, and has introduced a new training program that can keep employees at $9 an hour for as long as 18 months.

"The moves have concerned worker advocates, who say the changes have chipped away at the earnings gains employees appeared to make last year."

Meanwhile, the Times quotes Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart's chief sustainability officer, as saying that the company wants “as many people as possible” to advance to $10 through the program: "Opportunities for personal growth, good communication with a supervisor and a chance to advance in one’s career were among the most important reasons for training, she said. 'The research actually shows that wage is not a big driver of motivation,' she said."


The Street reports that Walmart's Sam's Club division plans to test an office supplies delivery business, though it did not say when or where. However, the company did make clear that federal regulators' successful blocking of an acquisition of Office Depot by Staples - which would have consolidated their B2B efforts, something that antitrust officials found unacceptable - has given it a potential opening.
KC's View:
In the broadest sense, the stories about Walmart's annual meeting suggest to me two things - the extent to which Walmart executives are trying to change the culture to make the company more appropriate to 21st century realities, and the degree to which they have a long way to go in dealing with existing conceptions/preconceptions/misconceptions about the company.

The thing is, Walmart is fighting battles on a number of fronts ... because as it tries to upgrade its various operations to compete with Amazon and Trader Joe's and Whole Foods' new 365 format on one side, it also has to fight a rearguard action against Aldi while preparing for Lidl and hoping that Save-A-Lot isn't successful at rebuilding its business. And that doesn't even take into account Kroger's continuing success.