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多重压力下,沃尔玛的低价策略能维持多久?

Matthew Boyle, 彭博社 2019年08月26日

今年6月去沃尔玛购物一趟比起去年同期要多花费5.2%,这给消费者带来了压力。

日常百货的低廉价格,是沃尔玛(Walmart Inc.)引以为豪的特色。不过随着苏打水、零食和牙膏厂商为了应对高企的成本和逼近的关税而提高了零售商的进货价,它总要付出代价。

问题在于代价在哪里。

数据追踪公司尼尔森(Nielsen)的数据显示,日用消费品的平均价格在2019年上半年上涨2.3%,增幅为近年来最大。沃尔玛门店的行政人员称第一季度的通胀情况“适度”。然而,Gordon Haskett Research Advisors指出,今年6月去沃尔玛购物一趟比起去年同期要多花费5.2%。对节俭的顾客而言,这样的涨价利益攸关。

供货商提高要价

可口可乐公司(Coca-Cola Co.)、百事公司(PepsiCo)、宝洁公司(Procter & Gamble Co.)和家乐氏公司(Kellogg Co.)等都提高了供货价,这迫使沃尔玛做出抉择:忍受进货价格的提升,挤压自身的利润空间;让消费者为涨价买单,承担销售额降低的风险;或是利用对供应商的影响力延缓或减轻涨价的冲击。

沃尔玛没有透露今后的计划,不过专家表示这家零售商可能会综合采用这三种策略来应对通胀。

爱德华·琼斯公司(Edward Jones)的分析师布莱恩·亚伯勒在接受采访时表示:“沃尔玛会尽其所能地避免让涨价的影响波及消费者,不过到了某一时刻,他们不得不这样做,因为节约的成本无法完全抵消我们开始看到的这一轮通胀。不过,他们对供应商还有很大影响力,所以我肯定他们正在反击。”

尽管如此,未来的价格预计还会有更多调整。对价值3,000亿美元的中国进口商品加征10%关税的政策即将从下月起实施。沃尔玛的高管已经表态,这会不可避免导致商品涨价——而假日购物季即将来临。

这些涨价有多少会由消费者承担?亚伯勒表示:“没人知道,除了沃尔玛的首席财务官。”

通胀挤压利润

适度的通胀往往受到零售商欢迎,尤其是在经济状况和现在一样表现良好,失业率接近历史低点,消费者信心高涨时。在近年来苦苦应对历史少有的一轮食品通货紧缩之后,杂货商尤其渴望舒展筋骨涨一涨价。

不过沃尔玛的情况不同。Gordon Haskett的数据显示,沃尔玛对零售领域的统治建立在价格最低的基础上,他们的定价比家乐氏等传统超市连锁店大约低10%,比竞争对手塔吉特(Target Corp.)低5%。稍微提高一点价格,就可能让消费者转而投向奥乐齐(Aldi)或Dollar General Corp.等大幅折扣商店,甚至亚马逊(Amazon.com Inc.)网上商城的怀抱。

零售咨询公司Inmar Analytics的高级副总裁吉姆·赫特尔在接受采访时表示:“沃尔玛认为,自身的价格优势越大,业绩就能越好。”

但是,如果家乐氏、塔吉特和其他公司纷纷涨价,沃尔玛不效仿,就相当于放弃到手的钱。随着员工薪水、运输费用和电子商务投资水涨船高,挤压了利润空间,这家位于阿肯色州的零售商必然要设法提高利润。

Gordon Haskett的分析师去年对76件相同产品的价格追踪显示,沃尔玛已经有所涨价。塔吉特也是一样。当然,沃尔玛在8月15日发布财报,塔吉特在8月21日也会公布业绩情况,投资者可以一探究竟。

涨价的不止大型零售商。奥莱利汽车零配件公司(O’Reilly Automotive Inc.)和Tractor Supply Co.等小型专业零售商在第二季度同样上调了价格,这很大程度上是为了应对现行关税政策的影响。其他零售商也可以因此名正言顺地涨价。

奥莱利的首席运营官和联席总裁杰夫·肖在7月25日表示:“所有人都面临着提价压力。我们看到各家公司都相应调整了价格。”(财富中文网)

译者:严匡正

Walmart Inc. prides itself on rock-bottom prices for everyday goods, but as soda, snack. and toothpaste makers boost what they charge retailers in response to rising costs and looming tariffs, something’s got to give.

The question is where.

Average prices for consumer goods rose 2.3% in the first six months of 2019—the fastest pace in several years, according to data tracker Nielsen. At Walmart, store officials said there was “modest” inflation in the first quarter. However, according to Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, a Walmart shopping trip was 5.2% more expensive in June compared with a year earlier. For thrifty Walmart shoppers, that matters.

Suppliers charging more

Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and Kellogg Co. are among those jacking up prices, pressuring Walmart into a decision: The retailer can absorb the price hike and see its profit margins suffer, pass along the increase to shoppers and risk losing sales, or use its clout with suppliers to delay or mitigate the impact.

Walmart won’t comment on its plans, but experts say the retailer will likely employ a blend of all three strategies to cope with inflation.

“Walmart will do everything they can to not pass this on to consumers, but at some point they will have to because there is not enough cost savings to offset the inflation we’re starting to see,” Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones, said in an interview. “Still, they have a lot of leverage over suppliers so I’m sure they’re pushing back.”

Nevertheless, expect more adjustments to come. Starting next month, the next round of 10% tariffs on a broad swath of $300 billion worth of Chinese imports begin. This will inevitably lead to price increases, Walmart executives have said— just as the holiday shopping season gets underway.

How much of those increases will be borne by consumers? “None of us know,” Yarbrough said, “except Walmart’s CFO.”

Inflation squeezing profits

Retailers typically welcome a bit of inflation, especially if economic conditions are favorable as they are now: Unemployment is near record lows and consumer confidence is high. After grappling with a historic bout of food deflation in recent years, grocers in particular are keen to flex their pricing muscles.

But Walmart’s different. Its dominance of the retail sector rests on a foundation of having the lowest prices, which are typically about 10% below traditional supermarket chains like Kroger Co. and 5% lower than rival Target Corp., according to Gordon Haskett. Raise those prices just a bit, and it could send shoppers down the road to deep-discounters like Aldi or Dollar General Corp., or even online to Amazon.com Inc.

“Walmart is convinced that the more they widen their price advantage, the better off they will be,” Jim Hertel, a senior vice president at retail consulting firm Inmar Analytics, said in an interview.

Yet if Kroger, Target. and others raise their prices, Walmart is leaving money on the table by not following suit. The Arkansas-based retailer could certainly use a profit boost, as higher wages, transportation costs, and e-commerce investments have squeezed its margins.

Walmart already has increased some prices, according to checks on a basket of about 76 identical items conducted by analysts at Gordon Haskett over the past year. So has Target. Of course, investors will be watching as Walmart on Aug. 15 reports results, and Target follows on Aug. 21.

It’s not just the big boxes. Smaller, specialty retailers like O’Reilly Automotive Inc. and Tractor Supply Co. both hiked prices in the second quarter, largely in response to existing tariffs in place. That’s given cover for others to do the same.

“Everybody is under the same pressure from the price increases,” O’Reilly Chief Operating Officer and Co-President Jeff Shaw said July 25. “And what we’re seeing in the field is everybody adjusting the prices accordingly.”

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