By Sarah Nassauer 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (April 4, 2020).

Walmart Inc. sales rose rapidly in stores and online in recent weeks as shoppers, worried about the spread of coronavirus, rushed to stockpile water, face masks and canned goods before shifting their focus to necessities for a prolonged stretch at home.

Walmart sales from its over 4,700 U.S. stores increased nearly 20% over the past four weeks compared with the same period last year, according to documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Sales on Walmart.com rose over 30% over the past eight weeks. Downloads of Walmart's online grocery mobile app skyrocketed.

U.S. retailers that have remained open because they sell products such as food and household goods have seen sales of certain products rise rapidly as nervous shoppers stock up on paper goods, food and other items. Walmart is the biggest, with $341 billion in U.S. annual sales.

The rush has challenged retail supply chains and online logistics and, in some cases, has pressured profits as sales of higher-margin products fall.

Target Corp. said last month comparable sales, those from stores and digital channels operating for at least 12 months, were up more than 20% in the almost four weeks through March 25, compared with the same period last year. But the sales surge came from food and household goods, while higher margin apparel sales fell, leading Target to withdraw its financial guidance for the quarter and full year.

Panic buying appeared to be slowing over the past week. Overall consumer goods sales rose 21.5% for the week ended March 28, compared with the same week in 2019, according to Nielsen. That is elevated, but down from a 67.9% sales spike for the week ended March 21.

The Walmart documents showed how the country's largest retailer has experienced a rapid shift in shopping behavior as the novel coronavirus spread through the country. They also suggest how Walmart aims to capitalize on those changes in the coming weeks and beyond.

A spokesman for Walmart had no comment.

As the coronavirus first emerged in the U.S., customers started "proactive health-minded buying," such as hand sanitizers, said the document. Then shoppers started to prioritize products essential to virus containment, like face masks, before moving on to "pantry preparation." During this period, more shoppers flocked to stores and spent more per trip, particularly on shelf-stable and frozen food as well as snacks, and a broader assortment of health and safety products.

Then shoppers prepared for life mostly at home, starting what Walmart dubbed "quarantine living preparation." In this period, more shoppers favored online shopping and faced rising out-of-stock products, and the supply chain strained, said the document. Shoppers stock up on more food and household and personal care items. In the past four weeks, rice, water and flour have been in high demand.

The next phase, what Walmart called "restricted living," means shoppers are preparing to home-school and work from home. Customers will severely restrict store visits and favor online fulfillment, said the document. This phase is favoring sales of iPads, routers, board games, home exercise equipment and home cooking supplies such as small appliances.

Walmart predicted that shopping will be different when we are "living a new normal" after the pandemic. "People return to daily routines having adopted more convenient shopping habits. They come together to celebrate moments with family and friends," the document said. This period could favor sale of products that promote healthy living, back-to-school and work needs and group gatherings, Walmart anticipated.

A Walmart survey from March, cited in the document, asked people how long they planned to continue their "cautionary behavior changes." Nearly 70% of respondents said "as long as it takes."

Write to Sarah Nassauer at sarah.nassauer@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 04, 2020 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)

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