UPDATE 2-Wal-Mart to add more self-checkout lanes

Wed Mar 7, 2012 10:52am EST

* Wal-Mart CFO stands by fiscal-year sales, EPS forecasts

* Adding more self-checkout lanes at Walmart, Sam's Club

* Rising gas prices a problem for Walmart customers

By Jessica Wohl

March 7 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc will add more self-checkout lanes at its Walmart and Sam's Clubs stores as it continues to look for ways to lower costs and prices, Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley said on Wednesday.

Holley said he was "very pleased" with traffic and sales at Walmart's U.S. stores this quarter, which started in February. Shoppers using their tax refund checks helped drive some of the sales, he said.

While Wal-Mart expects inflation to moderate this year, gasoline prices remain a "wild card," Holley said. "If oil continues to go up, I think that can be a drag on economies around the world."

Higher gasoline prices could have an impact on Walmart's U.S. shoppers in particular, as many of the chain's core customers have lower incomes and some have lost their jobs.

"If gas prices do start ... creeping back up to $4 and $5 I think that's going to be a problem for our customer," Holley said.

Shares of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, rose 0.8 percent to $59.43 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

ADDING MORE SELF-CHECKOUT LANES

Pushing more shoppers to scan their own items and make payments without the help of a cashier, has the potential to save Wal-Mart millions of dollars. For every one second in average transaction time at the Walmart U.S. chain, the company said it spends about $12 million in cashier wages.

The company will not eliminate cashiers, but it does plan to open more self-checkout lanes at Walmart, where some 1,600 of the more than 3,800 U.S. stores already have them. At the Sam's Club warehouse chain, about 80 out of 611 stores already have self-checkout lanes and another 220 will get them this year, Holley said.

Holley stood by Wal-Mart's financial targets, calling for fiscal 2013 sales to rise 5 percent to 7 percent and for earnings of $4.72 to $4.92 per share. Analysts, on average, anticipate a per-share profit of $4.86, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The company's fiscal year ends in January.

Holley made the comments at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference in New York, which was also broadcast over the Internet.

In February, Wal-Mart posted a slightly smaller-than-expected increase in fourth-quarter profit.

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