Posted on

Target sets sales record in Q2 as same-day services grow 273%

Following Walmart’s pandemic-fueled earnings beat posted on Tuesday, Target today also handily beat Wall Street expectations to deliver a record-setting quarter across a number of key metrics. The retailer on Wednesday announced its strongest quarter to date for comparable sales, which grew 24.3% in Q2, driving Target’s profit up 80.3% year-over-year to $1.69 billion. Online ordering was particularly popular, Target noted, with digital sales growing 195%. Same-day services like Drive Up, Order Pick Up and Shipt also grew by 273%.

In the quarter, Target topped estimates for revenue, same-store sales, adjusted EPS and gross margin. It reported $23 billion in revenue versus estimates of $19.82 billion. Its record-setting 24.3% increase in comparable sales was well above the expected 5.8%. Earnings per share came in at $3.38 versus the $1.58 forecast. And its GM was 30.9% instead of the expected 28.98%.

The company attributed its sales growth to a number of factors, including its ability to remain open amid the pandemic as an essential business, its customers’ overall trust in the Target brand, its ability to get customers to shop across its product categories, its digital services and most notably, the return of customers to its stores in Q2.

The latter item doesn’t necessarily mean Target shoppers were walking the aisles, however.

Instead, it speaks to the investments Target made ahead of the pandemic in bridging the gap between online ordering and its physical stores. In Q2, Target’s In-store Order Pick Up grew more than 60%, as shoppers headed inside Target to pick up their web orders, for example.

Target’s Drive Up service, which allows customers to shop online then pull up in designated parking spots to have orders brought their car, was up by more than 700% in the quarter.

And Target’s same-day home delivery service Shipt was up 350% over last year.

That means that for much of what Target customers think of as “online shopping,” their sales were actually being fulfilled by Target’s stores. In fact, Target said its stores fulfilled more than 90% of its second-quarter sales.

Image Credits: Target

To build out its digital fulfillment services, Target took a tech company-like approach in leveraging internal engineering teams capable of iterating quickly on new ideas. A team of eight, including four engineers, originally built Drive Up starting back in April 2017, for instance. By summer 2017, Drive Up was being tested internally. It then rolled out to Target’s home market by that fall. And as of August 2019, Target’s Drive Up service was available nationwide.

The retailer has also made key acquisitions to aid its e-commerce operations, including its $550 million deal for Shipt in 2017, and more recently, its acquisition of same-day delivery technology from Deliv back in May. It has also integrated Shipt’s same-day service directly into its own website and app, instead of relying only on Shipt’s dedicated brand to reach Target shoppers.

The results of these efforts are now paying off in a pandemic where customers don’t necessarily want to browse stores’ aisles in person to shop. That has led to Target seeing what Yahoo Finance today described as “tech company-like growth” for its retail business.

Store opening at Target Houston – Richmond on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 in South Richmond, Texas. Image Credits: Anthony Rathbun/AP Images for Target

Target’s chairman and CEO Brian Cornell additionally noted the company has added $5 billion in market share in the first six months of 2020, during which time it has added 10 million new digital customers.

“Our second-quarter comparable sales growth of 24.3% is the strongest we have ever reported, which is a true testament to the resilience of our team and the durability of our business model. Our stores were the key to this unprecedented growth, with in-store comp sales growing 10.9% and stores enabling more than three-quarters of Target’s digital sales, which rose nearly 200%,” he said. “We also generated outstanding profitability in the quarter, even as we made significant investments in pay and benefits for our team. We remain steadfast in our focus on investing in a safe and convenient shopping experience for our guests, and their trust has resulted in market share gains of $5 billion in the first six months of the year,” Cornell continued.

“With our differentiated merchandising assortment, a comprehensive set of convenient fulfillment options, a strong balance sheet and our deeply dedicated team, we are well-equipped to navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and continue to grow profitably in the years ahead,” he said.

The pandemic has played a role in what customers bought, too. Target said its sales were up across all five of its core merchandise categories. This was led by the strongest sales in electronics, a category that was up 70% year-over-year due to people staying at home for work, school and entertainment, leading to more purchases of things like computers or gaming systems. Electronics were followed by home products, which were up by 30%, then increases of 20% for the beauty, food and beverages, and essentials categories. Apparel even shifted from a 20% decline in Q1 to double-digit growth in Q2. Customer basket size also grew 18.8%, as people shopped for more items on their Target runs.

Like Walmart, Target also saw a boost from government stimulus checks, which will likely taper off next quarter. But Target declined to offer further 2020 guidance, saying that the COVID-19 crisis makes consumer shopping patterns and government policies unpredictable.

Read More

Posted on

Walmart is piloting a pricier 2-hour ‘Express’ grocery delivery service

Record usage of grocery delivery services amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led to delayed orders, fewer open delivery windows and, on occasion, an inability to even book a delivery time slot. Walmart now hopes to capitalize on the increased demand for speedier delivery with the introduction of a new service that allows consumers to pay to get to the front of the line. The retailer confirmed today it’s launching a new Walmart Grocery service called “Express,” which promises orders in two hours or less for an upcharge of $10 on top of the usual delivery fee.

The service has been in pilot testing across 100 Walmart stores in the U.S. since mid-April. Walmart says it plans to expand the service to nearly 1,000 stores in early May and it will be offered in a total of nearly 2,000 stores in the weeks after.

Some Walmart customers may have recently received a push notification alerting them to the launch.

To use Express delivery, you first fill your online Walmart Grocery cart with the $30 minimum required for delivery orders or more. The Express service offers more than 160,000 items from across Walmart’s grocery, consumables and general merchandise categories. At checkout, you’ll see an option beneath the calendar where you pick a delivery date to select the Express service. In many cases, there may not be other standard delivery time slots available for the current day or even several days out, which makes the Express service even more appealing to shoppers who need their orders sooner.

Though Walmart is officially promoting Express as a “two-hour” delivery service, in the weeks it’s been piloting the program Walmart has been able to deliver these orders within 56 minutes, on average.

“In our tests, we were shown an Express fee of $18.90 to receive a delivery in 55 mins or less,” the app informed us today, April 30. There were no other fees. Without choosing the Express option, the next available time slot was not until next week, on Monday, May 4.

A price of $18.90 is close to — but is not exactly — a $10 increase over Walmart’s typical delivery fees of $7.95 or $9.95, depending on time of day. But we understand the plan is to make Express a flat $10 upcharge moving forward. (Walmart hadn’t been planning to officially announce the launch until next week, so pricing is being updated.)

Like Walmart’s other grocery deliveries, Express deliveries are handled by Walmart’s external network of delivery partners, which vary by market. The retailer won’t comment on if those additional fees are split with their partners, or how, if so.

There could be backlash against a system like this, given how it favors a wealthier customer at a time when food and other critical supplies have run short. During the pandemic, store shelves have often been bare as consumers hoarded things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Lysol cleaners. Now, consumers are being warned that meat shortages are expected soon.

In addition, the pandemic has already exposed the income divide between those who can afford to shop online and low-income customers, who can only use their SNAP benefits (food stamps) in physical stores — except in a handful of states where a USDA pilot has been running. And now those with the means will be able to gain another advantage: paying to get to the limited supplies first.

Walmart says it’s doing things to mitigate these types of concerns, however.

For items where the inventory is so limited it can’t guarantee delivery, it’s removing their availability from the online grocery service. Plus, the retailer says it’s not pushing back standard delivery orders to accommodate the high-paying Express customers. Instead, the Express service is being made available on top of Walmart’s existing grocery pickup and delivery capacity.

The Express service wasn’t dreamed up because of the pandemic, Walmart says, but it did play a role in terms of the timing of the launch.

“The demand that we’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic is making us push forward and expedite the development of some services that we may have been thinking about,” a Walmart spokesperson explained. “But demand has pushed us to innovate more quickly,” they added.

Walmart is not alone in experiencing a crush of online grocery orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company and others have seen a record number of downloads for their grocery apps in recent weeks. In fact, demand for online grocery as well as other e-commerce orders has been so great that Walmart hired 150,000 new workers out of a pool of over a million applicants a full six weeks ahead of schedule, and is now hiring 50,000 more.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s online grocery rivals — Shipt, Instacart and Amazon — have also been hiring hundreds of thousands of new shoppers between them. Amazon had to implement a waitlist system for new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market pickup and delivery customers due to the rise in online grocery shopping. And Instacart made several adjustments to its app to help better prioritize orders and open up more delivery windows.

In Walmart’s case, its ability to launch Express isn’t solely due to its new hires, we’re told.

The company already employs a workforce of 74,000 “personal shoppers” who dedicate themselves to pulling for online grocery orders. Walmart says Express is powered by these personal shoppers, only some of whom may be the newly hired store associates.

“We have an opportunity to serve our customers no matter what life calls for,” said Tom Ward, Walmart senior vice president, Customer Product. “Whether it be a last-minute ingredient, medicine when a fever hits or the item you didn’t know you needed when checking off your chore list, time matters. Express is a solve for that,” he said.

Updated 4/30/20, 6:35 PM ET with additional expansion details and exec quote. 

Read More

Posted on

To fight fraud, Amazon now screens third-party sellers through video calls

Amazon is piloting a new system aimed at validating the identify of third-party sellers over video conferencing, the company announced on Sunday. The technology is a part of a series of seller-verification processes that Amazon uses to combat fraud on its platform, which the company claims stopped 2.5 million suspected bad actors from publishing their products to Amazon in 2019.

Earlier this year, Amazon began testing a process where seller verifications were handled in person. But due to the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing requirements, the company says it pivoted to live video conferencing in February.

The pilot program is now running in a number of markets, including the U.S., U.K., China and Japan. To date, more than 1,000 sellers have attempted to register an account through the pilot experience, Amazon says.

To vet the sellers, Amazon’s team sets up a video call, then checks that the individual’s ID matches the person and the documents they shared with their application. The Amazon associates also lean on third-party data sources for additional verification. In addition, the call may be used to provide the seller with information about problems with their registration and how to resolve them.

“Amazon is always innovating to improve the seller experience so honest entrepreneurs can seamlessly open a selling account and start a business, while also proactively blocking bad actors,” an Amazon spokesperson said about the new initiative. “As we practice social distancing, we are testing a process that allows us to validate prospective sellers’ identification via video conferencing. This pilot allows us to connect one-on-one with prospective sellers while making it even more difficult for fraudsters to hide,” they said.

In addition to video conferencing, Amazon also uses a proprietary machine learning system to vet sellers before they’re allowed online, it says. This system analyzes hundreds of different data point to identify potential risk, including verifying whether the account is related to another account that was previously removed from the marketplace, for example. The sellers’ applications are also reviewed by trained investigators before being approved.

Seller verification is only one way Amazon has taken on fraud, however.

The issue continues to be a serious problem across online marketplaces, where sellers hawk counterfeit items and scam consumers. Some retailers, including Nike and Birkenstock, have found the hassles aren’t worth the risk of dealing with Amazon, as a result.

While the retailer has long been accused of avoiding issues around fraud, it’s more recently pledged to spend billions to address the problem and has inserted itself into legal battles with fraudulent sellers and counterfeiters in recent years.

For example, it filed three lawsuits in 2018 in partnership with fashion designer Vera Bradley and mobile accessories maker Otterbox over counterfeits. It has also sued sellers buying fake reviews and others involved in the fake review industry. 

Last year, Amazon announced an initiative called Project Zero, which introduced a range of tools for brands to use to help Amazon fight fraud. The brands can opt to provide Amazon with their logos, trademarks and other key data, allowing the retailer to scan its billions of product listings to find suspected counterfeits more proactively.

Another tool, serialization, allows brands to include a unique code on their products during manufacturing, which can later be scanned to verify that a purchase is authentic. This tool, now known as Transparency, expanded to other markets last summer, including Europe, Canada and India.

But unlike these earlier efforts, seller verification aims to cut down on products being listed in the first place –not just removed once listings go live or stopping fraudulent products from being shipped to customers.

Read More