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Wal-Mart Earnings Fall, But Online Sales Surge

Wal-Mart drew more shoppers to its namesake stores in the United States and its e-commerce sales soared, signs that its efforts to lower prices and improve web services are helping it compete better against online leader Amazon.

The company saw the biggest gain in a key revenue measure in its U.S business in four years, marking the tenth consecutive increase. The number of customers rose for the ninth straight quarter. And online sales rose 29 percent in the third straight quarter of gains after about two years of a slowing trend.

Still, the world’s largest retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings that fell 18 percent as its results have been squeezed by its investments in online upgrades and stores. The results did beat Wall Street expectations. And total sales were hurt by a stronger U.S. dollar, which is making its international business more challenging.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also said Tuesday it has seen sales weaken at the beginning of the first quarter in part because a slowdown in tax refunds amid a new tax rule. And it warned that any tax on imported goods, as in a proposal Republicans in Congress have floated, would raise prices and would hurt shoppers.

Shares rose in morning trading.

Wal-Mart, like other traditional retailers, has been trying to improve its online operations to be a stronger challenger to online leader Amazon.com. The holiday shopping season was challenging for many retailers, underscoring the changes brick-and-mortar stores need to make. But Wal-Mart’s results show that its aggressive efforts are helping.

“We’re moving with speed to become more of a digital enterprise and better serve our customers,” CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement.

Wal-Mart has retooled its own online shopping programs and bought up some smaller companies with online strengths. It spent more than $3 billion for Jet.com in a deal aimed at helping it…

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