FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Wal-Mart’s CEO Doug McMillon said the world’s largest retailer’s task is to more quickly bring e-commerce together with physical stores to better serve shoppers.
At Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s annual shareholders meeting on Friday, McMillon talked about a service that Wal-Mart offers at its Asda.com website in the U.K., where customers can order groceries online and then pick them up from trucks at various pickup points.
“Our purpose of saving people money will always be relevant, but we’ll do it in new ways,” said McMillon, who took over as CEO in February. “We need to be at the forefront of innovation and technology.”
McMillon’s remarks come at a time when the retailer is seeking to address concerns over its declining sales and business practices at home and overseas. Revenue at established stores in the U.S. has declined for five consecutive quarters. The number of customers has also fallen six quarters in a row at the division, which accounts for 60 percent of the company’s sales.
Like many other retailers that cater to working-class Americans, Wal-Mart has been hurt by an uneven economic recovery that has benefited well-heeled shoppers more than those in the lower-income rungs. Moreover, shoppers are increasingly looking for lower prices at online rivals like Amazon.com and at dollar chains and pharmacies.
As a result, Wal-Mart is opening more small stores, like Walmart Express and Neighborhood Markets. It’s also pushing online grocery services. It’s also adding money transfers and other services to cater to low-income shoppers. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has more than tripled the number of items it sells online to more than 7 million from 2 million just 18 months ago.
At the same time, Wal-Mart is still facing critics who argue that its workers’ wages are skimpy. The issue came up at Friday’s meeting when a worker, Charmaine Givens-Thomas, introduced a shareholder proposal for an independent chairman. “Something is wrong when the richest family in America pays hundreds of thousands of workers so little that they cannot survive without public assistance,” she said.
Wal-Mart also is facing tough ethical questions overseas as it continues to confront concerns over how it handled bribery allegations that surfaced in April 2012 at its Mexican unit. The company is being pressured to increase its oversight of factories abroad following a building collapse in April 2013 in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers. Wal-Mart wasn’t using any of the factories in the building at the time of the collapse, but it is the second-largest retail buyer of clothing in Bangladesh.