Teeth Whitener, Travel Products Walmart's Fastest Sellers as COVID Wanes: CEO

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company is seeing an increase in sales of teeth whitener and travel products as Americans ease mask restrictions and begin venturing out from the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Walmart raised its annual earnings forecast after delivering successful results in the first quarter, according to the Associated Press. McMillon said government stimulus money boosted overall sales as consumers are increasingly splurging on clothing, as well as lawn and garden items.

"Our optimism is higher than it was at the beginning of the year," McMillon said, according to AP. "In the U.S., customers clearly want to get out and shop."

The company's first-quarter net income was $2.73 billion, or 97 cents per share, in the three-month period that ended April 30. Sales rose 2.6 percent to $137.16 billon, while analysts were expecting $132.16 billion, AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Walmart
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company is seeing an increase in sales of teeth whitener and travel products as Americans ease mask restrictions and begin venturing out from the pandemic. Above, people wearing masks and gloves wait to enter a Walmart on April 17, 2020, in Uniondale, New York. Al Bello/Getty Images

Sales at stores opened at least a year rose 6 percent, slowing from the 8.6 percent increase during the fiscal fourth quarter. But it topped last year's 10 percent spike when Walmart turned into a pandemic lifeline for millions of people. Online sales rose 37 percent, down from 69 percent during the fourth quarter.

Walmart has pushed further into fast and convenient delivery over the past year and sales at its stores were elevated with so many other retailers forced to close during lockdowns. Even the massive infrastructure put into place by Walmart in recent years was strained by the crush of orders from millions of people sheltering at home.

It bumped up spending by $14 billion to speed up its distribution network, and in February said it would raise its average hourly wage to more than $15 per hour, a $1 increase. Amazon and Target have already increased hourly wages to $15 for all workers.

Walmart said that it now expects earnings to increase in the high single digits; previously, the company had projected a slight decline in profit for the year.

Walmart is still faced with plenty of challenges. Analysts believe that sign-ups for Walmart Plus, a membership program costing shoppers $98 annually, or $12.95 per month, are slowing. The retailer is hoping it will be a big competitor to Amazon's juggernaut Prime free shipping program, launched 15 years ago. Walmart Plus gives members same-day delivery on 160,000 items, a fuel discount at certain gas stations and a chance to check out at Walmart stores without having to wait at a register.

McMillon told analysts during the earnings call on Tuesday that what's driving the selling memberships is the grocery supercenter pickup and delivery, and capacity is an issue. He said right now the focus is on the quality of that experience, not the quantity.

On Friday, Walmart Inc. said it will no longer require vaccinated shoppers or workers to wear a mask in its U.S. stores unless state or local laws say otherwise. It's offering workers a $75 bonus if they are vaccinated.

Walmart AP photo
A woman wearing a protective face mask due to COVID-19 wheels a cart with her purchases out of a Walmart store on November 18, 2020, in Derry, New Hampshire. Charles Krupa/Associated Press