Walmart U.S. CEO 'amazed' by shoppers' resilience

NEW YORK Wed Sep 11, 2013 5:11pm EDT

Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., speaks at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York, September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., speaks at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York, September 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. consumers are ready to shop this Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as they "find a way to navigate" through a continued difficult economy, Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Bill Simon said on Wednesday.

While the 2 percent payroll tax increase and other concerns cause people "to pause and think about what they're spending," Simon continues "to be amazed by the resilience of the consumer," the head of the largest U.S. retailer said at the Reuters Global Consumer and Retail Summit in New York.

Walmart U.S. is the largest unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), the world's largest retailer.

Walmart U.S. stores are ready to kick off Thanksgiving weekend sales "whenever we need to go," Simon said, hinting that the first major offers may move earlier than last year's 8 p.m. Thanksgiving evening start if necessary.

"We think it's important to be first and we're ready to go any time," he said.

Walmart U.S. expects sales to improve in the second half of the year after the chain posted declines in sales at stores open at least a year - better known as same-store sales - in both the first and second quarters.

Issues such as healthcare costs, Syria, higher payroll taxes and gasoline prices weigh on the minds of Walmart's customers, which may alter some of their spending in between holidays, Simon said.

"I think customers are going to shop for Christmas and Halloween, Thanksgiving, just like they always did, and they're going to figure out in between how to make it up."

This holiday season, shoppers are likely to see intense price competition in the toy aisles of Walmart and other retailers, he said. However, he does not expect much discounting on "hot electronics" such as the new XBox One by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Sony Corp's (6758.T) Playstation 4.

Walmart U.S. has already seen "pretty good" presales of both of those gaming systems, Simon said. This is the first holiday season in several years with highly anticipated gaming systems coming to the market. Electronics retailers from Walmart to Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) are eager for hot gifts after items such as 3D televisions were disappointments.

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(For other news from the Reuters Global Consumer and Retail Summit, click here)

(Additional reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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