It's been a busy week for investors — as well as the vendor community — to ponder the future of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.After acquiring Shoebuy.com last month and Jet.com last fall, the retail giant grabbed online outdoor gear and apparel retailer Moosejaw earlier this week. In other news, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway disclosed that it sold off close to $1 billion of Wal-Mart stock as the firm stepped up investments in Apple as well as in the airline segment.In the midday session, shares are flat at $68.90 on light trading volume. For the six-month period, the stock is down 7.3 percent. Analysts and vendors weighing in on the future of Wal-Mart — and the rest of the retail sector, for that matter — note that the company and sector has reached an "inflection point."Brent Franson, chief executive officer of Euclid Analytics, which is a retail analytics provider, said it's "fair to say that Buffett doesn’t believe in Wal-Mart anymore.""It’s fair to say that he’s probably a pragmatist who buys undervalued stock with the potential to grow at a pace that generates favorable returns — and sells when they’re no longer poised to deliver," Franson explained. "So you might infer that Wal-Mart is either overvalued or perfectly valued — in which case, it’s no longer interesting or lucrative for Buffett. But fears that the retail category itself is no longer one to believe in are seriously overblown."Franson said with the global retail industry totaling more than $24 trillion in sales (with apparel making up about $1.2 trillion), "retail is doing just fine.""That said, retail is at an inflection point where retailers must adapt to reflect the reality of the modern shopper’s expectations — and those that are more like Amazon, and less like Wal-Mart, will do much better,” the ceo said adding that Wal-Mart's "revenue doesn’t matter as much in the market as growth — and that is an area where the giant is undeniably weak." Wal-Mart's annual revenue is over $484 billion, and its market capitalization is about $211 billion.Franson said today's retail market is growing online with companies "mastering the art of omnichannel. In other words, retailers who are currently winning in the marketplace are those that signal clear savvy in using both online and offline channels to deliver value to customers and returns to shareholders. Wal-Mart has not cracked the code, and it’s too far behind to get there quickly enough. Wal-Mart’s moat — differentiators that prevent competitors from storming the castle — is drying up.”Sarah Engel, senior vice president of global marketing at DynamicAction, Buffett "dumping millions in Wal-Mart stock this week makes it more vital than ever for Wal-Mart to prove quickly that its acquisition strategy is paying off." That said, Engel sees some opportunities with the Moosejaw deal."Additionally, the outdoor apparel industry is in upheaval, between Bass Pro’s acquisition of Cabela’s and the bankruptcy filings of Eastern Mountain Sports," Engel said. "Leveraging Wal-Mart’s technology stack and efficiencies on the backend to grow Moosejaw has a number of potential pitfalls along the way, but if done well, could result in Wal-Mart emerging as a true competitor in a currently disjointed market — a puzzle that not even Amazon has solved."Engel described Moosejaw shoppers as younger and loyal, and she said the company must maintain that base by protecting its brand while also using customer data. "Unlike Amazon, Wal-Mart has the footprint and the in-store, hands-on relationships with the customer," Engel said. "Wal-Mart must be able to both expand that customer base and use physical stores as a strength rather than a detriment if it wants to stop playing catch up. Truly connecting, understanding and taking immediate action on their customer data across stores and digital will need to come to fruition in order for Wal-Mart to create that unified commerce experience and profit model."Jon Beck, ceo of Columbus Consulting International, said as consumers continue to crave experiences and authenticity, the culture of Moosejaw needs to be maintained even as it scales up under Wal-Mart."[The deal] also gives Wal-Mart the opportunity to study the brand and learn how it has attracted and retained its customers," Beck added. "Over time, integration into Wal-Mart's vast supply chain will ultimately lead to greater efficiencies, lower cost and better, more timely deliveries for consumers."Adrien Nussenbaum, U.S. ceo and cofounder of Mirakl, said while the synergies between the two companies "may not appear" immediately obvious, "Wal-Mart's acquisition is aimed more at showing a larger percent of online revenue for Wal-Mart’s total revenue, given the growth figures for online e-commerce."Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart Stores’ president and chief executive officer, previously named Jet.com founder Marc Lore as president and ceo of Wal-Mart global e-commerce. The ceo told investors that the company views Jet.com as a way to bolster online sales, and closing the gap with Amazon and its $136 billion in sales. Sales of walmart.com are about $14 billion.Across the retail market, online sales remain at about 10 percent as consumers still buy the bulk of items in physical stores.
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