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Walmart has big year of e-commerce investments planned

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It’s been more than a year since Walmart acquired Jet.com, which gave the company an initial e-commerce boost. Since then, Walmart is starting to shift marketing spend on the millennial-centric upstart to reach younger shoppers directly via Walmart.com, the company explained Tuesday.

“Jet will not grow as quickly as it did in early days, but it will be well-positioned where we’ve chosen to focus the brand,” CEO Doug McMillon said on a conference call with analysts and investors.

“I think what you’ll see is Jet will go through a period of adjustment and then it’ll start to grow again in the future but focused on specific markets and opportunities,” McMillon said. “Whereas Walmart will be the broad-based, big part of the business and growing it will be a priority.”

Later this spring, Walmart will reveal a completely revamped website with a focus on fashion and home goods. In partnering with Hudson’s Bay-owned Lord & Taylor, Walmart will bring high-end clothing items to its website, in addition to its less-expensive banners, which are also getting a refresh.

Soon, Walmart.com will also feature the “smart cart” technology made famous on Jet.com. The platform grants shoppers cheaper prices if they pack more items together in one box, use a debit card when paying for purchases or opt out of returns. It’s something that has helped Jet.com amass a loyal shopper base — they keep coming back for the promised savings and seamless experience.

Meanwhile, Walmart is transitioning more of its stores to fulfill online grocery orders and deliver those orders curbside to customers. In addition to fashion, grocery is expected to be one of Walmart’s biggest areas of investment this year.

Tuesday’s results show Walmart “is following the same strategy as Amazon: taking less profit today, for the prospect of a stronger, better business tomorrow,” said Neil Saunders of GlobalData Retail. In taking a page from the so-called Amazon playbook, Walmart hopes to beat the e-commerce behemoth at its own game.

Looking to the full year, Walmart expects U.S. e-commerce sales to grow 40 percent in fiscal 2019, matching what it previously expected. Investments in new brands and new technology should ultimately aid the company in attracting new customers, pushing it toward those goals.

Meanwhile, Amazon is making its own advancements in grocery and apparel, treading on Walmart’s turf. However, a new report from Coresight Research found that shoppers were largely only visiting Amazon.com because it offered “cheap delivery” and was easy to search. These attributes could easily be replicated and successfully mastered by others, including Walmart.

Many shoppers today “do not associate Walmart with online or they default to Amazon,” Saunders said. “We believe this is down to Walmart’s focus on low prices plus better customer service, improved ranges, and better-selling environments.”

Including Tuesday’s losses, Walmart shares have climbed about 35 percent from a year ago.

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PM Giuseppe Conte wins Senate vote, leads minority government

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Netflix (NFLX) Q4 2020 earnings

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Biden’s incoming CDC director says Trump administration ‘muzzled’ scientists

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Rochelle Walensky, who has been nominated to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks after US President-elect Joe Biden announced his team tasked with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on December 8, 2020.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who were sidelined by the Trump administration during the Covid-19 pandemic will “get heard again,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden‘s pick to lead the agency, said Tuesday.

Last year, the CDC went months without addressing the U.S. public after Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned in February that schools and businesses may have to close to contain the coronavirus.

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad,” Messonnier said in prescient remarks that sent markets reeling and reportedly irked President Donald Trump.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump has continued to clash with the nation’s top scientists, including current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, publicly contradicting him on issues such as the Covid-19 vaccine timeline.

Walensky vowed to restore the public voice of the CDC and its scientists.

“They have been diminished. I think they’ve been muzzled. That science hasn’t been heard,” she told The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Dr. Howard Bauchner on Tuesday. “This top-tier agency, world renowned, hasn’t really been appreciated over the last four years and really markedly over the last year, so I have to fix that.”

Walensky said she intends to revamp the CDC’s communications efforts under the Biden administration. That could include regular briefings led by Walensky or subject matter experts to explain scientific research published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, she said. She added that it will likely also mean a more concerted plan to engage the public on social media.

“Science is now conveyed through Twitter. Science is conveyed on social media, on podcasts and in many different ways, and I think that’s critical,” Walensky said. “We have to have a social media plan for the agency.”

She said bolstering the agency’s presence on social media will be particularly important as the country combats vaccine hesitancy. Misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines is prevalent on social media, she said, adding that the agency needs to get “the right information” out.

Over the past year, communications from the CDC have often been at odds with those from the White House. The agency revised guidance on reopening churches and religious sites after Trump urged state officials to allow houses of worship to reopen. And over the summer, Trump installed longtime ally and former campaign official Michael Caputo as top spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC’s parent department, in an effort to better align messaging with the White House.

Caputo and his team tried to undermine CDC scientists, pressuring them to revise scientific research that ran afoul of guidance pushed by the White House, internal emails obtained by House lawmakers show. Walensky said Tuesday she will make sure the CDC communicates transparently with the American people regardless of the political consequences.

“That I have to fix immediately,” she said.

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