Love it or hate it, Walmart is a formidable player in the U.S. retail sales game, and during the pandemic, their sales have continued to grow. Here’s how they did it and what other retailers can learn during the dark days of COVID-19 and beyond.
Walmart has always had the knack to appeal to a broad buyer base, with a seemingly bottomless well of inventory and bargain prices. Cheap and plentiful goods are part of the formula, along with options for ecommerce. In 2020, online shopping is where it’s at, due to safety concerns. Walmart has seen a massive increase in online sales–a 97% increase, in fact.
Staying home was a recommendation, then a mandate, and is now a recommendation once more. Infectious disease experts, doctors, and scientists agree that less interaction with people and fewer outings, coupled with vigilant mask-wearing in public and hand washing, will help keep us safe and prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19. For people of a certain age and/or with compromised immune systems whose risk of a COVID-19 case being fatal, it’s imperative.
People began to make fewer trips to fewer places in order to stay safe. Thus the rise in online shopping makes sense. Because they already had an online shopping system set up, Walmart easily transitioned to providing more online sales, where customers could choose to pickup their orders or have them delivered.
Being a modern day trading post of sorts, a one-stop shopping spot, also helped bolster Walmart’s sales during COVID-19. Why risk going to three or four different stores when Walmart has groceries, cooking and gardening supplies, games, electronics, jigsaw puzzles, plus bath and beauty goods? Not to mention the extra time it takes to disinfect all the packages when you get home; it makes more sense for most people to only stop at one place. This time saved by going to one store (in this case, Walmart) instead of driving around can also help save your sanity.
Affordability, availability, and familiarity are key pillars of the Walmart formula for success. Easy is the magic word. Cheap is another word with extra appeal to the millions of people in the U.S. who’ve lost their full or part time jobs or have seen their hours/clients reduced since the shutdowns began in March. Stretching a dollar is the in-demand skill we all need to cultivate now, and shopping at inexpensive stores like Walmart is one way to do this.
For these reasons, Walmart’s second quarter sales surged as people began receiving their stimulus checks. Now, as most people have already received and spent their stimulus money, Walmart’s sales are slightly falling off again, though they are still strong. Their business model is working for consumers who need convenience and affordability.
Another factor in Walmart’s 2020 success is their massive inventory of in-demand items. I’m not even talking about the water and TP hoarders. As Americans stayed home longer, people sought ways to entertain themselves, set up remote workplaces for the adults and study areas for children and college students. People needed to exercise and cook more. Even jigsaw puzzles were nearly impossible to find online or in stores by the time early May rolled around.
Walmart’s sales of electronics boomed during this period: TVs and computer sales skyrocketed early on. As quarantine remained the order of the day, more people cooked at home more often, and cooking supplies also kept moving off the Walmart shelves and out of the warehouses. Many started working on their yards and gardens, and Walmart once again was there to accommodate.
Cooking and yard items still remain popular as people are realizing that they will be continuing to spend more time at home. People brightened their days and fought off boredom and the heat with inflatable pools for them, their kids, and their pets, or maybe bought bread pans, a pressure cooker, or lawn chairs.
Like many massive corporations, Walmart has had its share of scrutiny. They have been a problematic presence for a long time. However, they have always been able to reach their audience with low prices and a wide range of available items. These same factors have helped push their sales during 2020, and will likely continue to do so, especially if the government decides on issuing a second stimulus check to aid U.S. workers.