Walmart is betting against the middle class - and it's a brilliant strategy

  • Walmart's stock price soared to an all-time high Thursday following an upbeat earnings report.
  • It's a sign of growing investor confidence around the company's strategy of targeting customers at the highest and lowest ends of the income spectrum.

Walmart is on a tear. 

The company's stock soared more than 10% on Thursday following an upbeat earnings report, which included 2.7% same-store sales growth at US stores, heading into the critical holiday season. Analysts applauded the company's performance across the board, with Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom declaring it a "monster quarter" in which Walmart "hit it out of the park."

The rally appears to be more than a reaction to strong sales and earnings growth, however.

It's also a sign of growing investor confidence in Walmart's strategy to attract new customers by targeting shoppers at both the highest and lowest ends of the income spectrum, according to Doug Stephens, a retail-industry consultant. 

"If you’re Walmart, your choice has become binary: If you want to grow your business you either extend further down, which is treacherous and low profit at best, or you move upmarket, which is a much better choice, if they can pull it off," Stephens said. 

RELATED: Here are a few savvy ways to save money at Walmart:

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9 secret ways to save money at Walmart
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9 secret ways to save money at Walmart

1. Take Advantage of Walmart's Price Matching Policy 

Even if Walmart isn’t offering the lowest price on a given item, you can take advantage of the store’s price match policy to secure a better deal. Walmart will match any advertised price from stores in your area, said Paul Ivanovsky, creator of IHeartTheMart.com, a blog dedicated to saving money at Walmart. To qualify, the items in question must be identical and in stock at the other retailer. According to Ivanovsky, the price matching policy is a great way to save money on items such as fruit, meat and paper products.

Additionally, Walmart will match many online competitors’ prices for home goods and other non-food items. While restrictions exist, the retail giant will generally match prices for goods from Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Target.com and TigerDirect.com, among other stores.

Photo credit: vvoe/Shutterstock.com

2. Get Online Prices in the Store

Before you make a purchase in one of its stores, see if Walmart is offering a better price online, as the company will match Walmart.com prices for in-store purchases. Bethany Halford, co-creator of the Whoa, Wait. Walmart? blog that features great finds at Walmart, said she frequently finds items that have been marked down online but not in the stores.

To get the better price, she pulls the item up on her phone and shows it to the cashier when she checks out. Recently, Halford saved a couple dollars when she found a pair of slippers selling for $12.88 in the store and about $10 online.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Larry Herfindal

3. Use the Savings Catcher App

If you forgot to check other stores’ prices before shopping at Walmart, you still can take advantage of the retailer’s price match policy after the fact by using the Savings Catcher app. After scanning your receipt with the app, you can compare the prices you paid with local competitors’ advertised rates, Ivanovsky said. If an item you bought is cheaper elsewhere, you will be credited the difference in the form of Savings Catcher Rewards Dollars, which can be redeemed for a Walmart gift card or Walmart Buck$ to be added to a Bluebird by American Express Card prepaid debit card.

“Even if you don’t think you bought something that can be matched, you might be surprised at what the Savings Catcher finds for you,” said Dian Farmer of GroceryShopForFree.com.

Photo credit: iStock.com/LDProd

4. Get Free Shipping From Walmart.com

Shipping costs can quickly negate the savings you might accumulate by shopping online. However, there are two ways you can get free shipping from Walmart.com. If you spend $50 or more online, Walmart will ship your purchases for free, Halford said. While there’s a flat $4.97 shipping fee for orders less than $50, shoppers can get around that fee by having online purchases shipped to their local stores, said Amanda Jerkins, the other co-creator of Whoa, Wait. Walmart?

It’s important to note that perishable products, hazardous materials and items weighing more than 350 pounds aren’t eligible for free store pickup. With many other items, though, you can pick them up the same day you order them online.

Photo credit: chrisdorney/Shutterstock.com

5. Comb Through the Clearance Racks

If you rush through your Walmart trips, you might miss out on some of the retailer’s best clearance deals. Typically, deeply discounted items are placed in an aisle near the toy or lawn and garden department, Halford said. When she and Jerkins comb through the clearance racks, they often find that items they were coveting at full price are now on sale for much less.

For example, Jerkins said she recently found a floor lamp she wanted that was marked down from $45 to $20 in the clearance section. She also recommends checking the end caps on aisles throughout the store for heavily discounted items.

Photo credit: Kzenon/Shutterstock.com

6. Shop Early in the Morning for Grocery Deals

If your local Walmart has a grocery department, you can save money by timing your food shopping trips right. Farmer recommends shopping early in the morning to score discounts on one of the priciest food items on your list — meat.

“Normally, by 8 a.m., the meat department has discounted their meat, and you can grab some great deals,” she said.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Steve Debenport

7. Tap Into Seasonal Savings

Walmart is known for offering great Black Friday sales. In fact, DealNews.com found that it was among the top five retailers with the best deals on Black Friday and the entire week of Thanksgiving. However, there are other times of the year when retailers offers savings, as well.

In particular, July has become a season for merchants to promote Black Friday-like deals, said Slickdeals.net consumer expert Regina Conway. In July of 2015, Walmart hosted a big sale to rival Amazon’s one-day sale for its Prime members, who pay a $99 annual fee for free two-day shipping and other benefits. Amazon has already announced plans to hold the event again, and Conway anticipates that Walmart will do the same. As an added bonus, Walmart doesn’t require any sort of membership fee to take advantage of its deals.

Photo credit: txking/Shutterstock.com

8. Get $1 Deals

Some of the items you can find at a dollar store can also be purchased at Walmart for $1 or less — and you don’t even have to ask for price matching. For example, Walmart sells personal grooming products such as deodorant and shampoo for about $1. You also can find greeting cards and gift bags for $1, although the selection is smaller than what you’d see at a traditional dollar store.

Ivanovsky keeps a running list on IHeartTheMart.com of Walmart’s current dollar deals.

Photo credit: Khomkrit Phonsai/Shutterstock.com

9. Get Free Grocery Pickup

Walmart has rolled out a new service in some cities that doesn’t cost a dime to use and can save shoppers a lot of valuable time: grocery pickup. Customers in Atlanta, Nashville, Colorado Springs, Tucson, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Salt Lake City and Ogden can now order their groceries online and then pick them up at select stores in their areas. You can even select a time for your pickup, and an associate will load the groceries into your car.

Follow the above tips on your next Walmart trip, and you will likely be smiling as brightly as the retailer’s trademark logo.

Related: 6 Grocery Delivery Services That Are Worth the Money

Photo credit: iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

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Investors seem to think Walmart can pull it off.

The retailer has been targeting high-income customers through recent acquisitions of upmarket brands like Bonobos, Modcloth, and Shoebuy, and the more recently announced addition of Lord & Taylor to Walmart.com. 

The company says it has plans to turn its website into a "premium fashion destination," according to Denise Incandela, the head of fashion for Walmart US e-commerce.

At the same time, Walmart appears to be maintaining loyalty among customers at the opposite end of the income spectrum by keeping prices competitive and adding new in-store discounts that its rivals — most notably Amazon — will have a hard time beating.

"Walmart continues executing well in a generally solid US consumer environment with the combination of offensive marke- share gaining moves and defensive inventory and pricing execution," Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen wrote in a recent note to clients.

Walmart's strategy overlooks the middle class

Walmart's strategy puts less emphasis than ever before on a group that was once it's prime target: the middle class, according to Stephens. 

"In the 1960s, retailers couldn’t keep up with the growth of the middle class," Stephens said. "Wages were growing, families were growing, and people were moving out to the suburbs. That played very well into Walmart's playbook."

Now the middle class is shrinking, and big-box retailers and department stores that once appealed to the middle class are being forced to change their strategies or go bankrupt.

"More and more people are dropping out of middle class and dropping into working class; hence the appeal and the growth of dollar stores," Stephens said. "If Walmart is going to succeed they need to attract higher-income consumers."

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SEE ALSO: Walmart is leveraging its greatest advantage over Amazon

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