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Four Things to Expect from Walmart's Shareholder Week

By Published on .

Walmart shareholder's meeting 2017
Walmart shareholder's meeting 2017 Credit: Walmart

Good times or bad, Walmart's shareholder's meeting is always a huge celebration. In fact, it's not just a meeting, or a day. It's a Shareholder's Week, where employees (associates) from around the world gather.

This year, the giant retailer has more to celebrate than usual – including a big spike in e-commerce sales last quarter, three years of same-store sales growth, and pats on the back from many analysts. The stock is up 11% the past year. That's a notch below the 15% for the S&P 500, and further below Costco (18%) and Amazon (39%). But it's way better than most legacy retailers like Target, Kroger and Dollar General, all down double digits.

With that in mind, here four faces of Walmart expected to show up in Northwest Arkansas this week.

Walmart the star power broker: Walmart draws A-list talent to every shareholder meeting, where they perform for free, albeit with expenses covered and the warm knowledge that it helps them, their employers, their studios or record labels sell stuff at Earth's largest retailer. Last year, James Corden and Katy Perry were there. Prior years have seen Will Smith, Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Miley Cyrus and so many more. Who will headline Friday's meeting is a closely held secret. But Rascal Flatts and Sheryl Crow were tapped to perform for the associates earlier in the week.

Walmart the benevolent: Shareholder Week is part of Walmart's vigorous PR effort to prove to media elites and others that union-backed groups bashing its wages, benefits and personnel practices are wrong. Nothing makes that point like Bud Walton Arena packed with screaming, enthusiastic employees. Cynics say it's easy to get several thousand deliriously happy employees out of 2.3 million to show up when they're hand selected by management for an all-expenses-paid trip to be entertained lavishly (see above).

But Walmart will also showcase associates' upward mobility and enhanced training. And the reality is, in one-on-ones, many do seem genuinely satisfied. On Glassdoor, Walmart gets ranked the same or better than union-represented Kroger and Safeway, above non-union Dollar General, but below non-union Target and Costco.

Walmart the tech company: During a 2014 Shareholder Week press conference, former Walmart E-commerce CEO Neil Ashe dismissed the potential impact of Jet.com. Now Walmart owns Jet.com, and its founder Marc Lore has Ashe's job. Walmart e-commerce actually outgrew Amazon last quarter, and Lore will be out to showcase more ways he can contend with what looks like the biggest existential threat to Earth's biggest retailer.

Walmart paid Lore $244 million last year, more than 10 times what CEO Doug McMillon got, thanks to stock grants from the deal. And he's out to prove Walmart e-commerce business is a flexible platform that also can grow quickly while rapidly bolting on acquisitions like Jet.com, Moosejaw, ModCloth, and ShoeBuy, in the process adding many customers leery of Walmart.

More broadly, McMillon has been positioning Walmart as a tech company, most recently in an interview with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. The in-store side of that tech includes things like the Scan & Go app at Sam's Club, a generally flawless way to scan and buy on the go. Despite the ease of use, though, most shoppers at stores in, say, Cincinnati don't seem to use it. And applying the app to the bigger universe of Walmart stores without unacceptable pilferage could be even more challenging.

Walmart the product developer: Walmart built its business on selling branded products for less than the competition. But its emerging competition from Aldi, Trader Joe's and Lidl mainly sell private-label goods, and big rivals Costco and Kroger also have more fully developed private-label offerings. So, in the worst news for brand marketers, a big part of what Walmart is likely to showcase is its growing prowess at developing its own brands.

Last year, Walmart unveiled its private-label craft beer. What wonders await this year?

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