If department store earnings last week made it look as if a storm is bearing down on big retail, the big-box stores have parted the clouds a little bit.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported Thursday that it continued its steady streak of U.S. comparable sales growth, posting a 1.8 percent increase over the same quarter last year.
That came just a day after Target finally recorded positive comparable sales after four consecutive quarters of declines.
While Target only just turned a corner, Walmart's comparable sales growth has been remarkably consistent in a volatile retail environment. This is the 12th consecutive quarter it has notched growth in its U.S. comparable sales, each time in the range of 0.6 to 1.8 percent.
Meanwhile, it is significant that Walmart had another quarter of blistering e-commerce growth, with sales up 60 percent over a year earlier. That growth is due in part to the addition of properties such as Modcloth and Bonobos to its stable, but it also reflects that the assortment of merchandise has expanded drastically on Walmart.com.
Investors are clamoring for more, particularly on the profitability front. And they might get antsy for additional splashy acquisitions, particularly after Amazon.com Inc. threw down the gauntlet by agreeing to buy Whole Foods Market Inc.
But Walmart's progress should be good enough for now. The big-box giant is thinking creatively about how to get its online business to catch fire. And, frankly, it has to spend money to do that. It is also doing a better job of running its stores, delivering its best quarterly comparable sales in its grocery division in five years. That means something when few retailers seem capable of delivering any much improvement.
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