A Walmart store in Troy, Mich.

Walmart’s aggressive online expansion and the revamping of its stores lifted sales at the start of the year, although earnings were slightly down.

Walmart saw a 63% spike in online sales in the quarter ended April 30, the payoff from its strategy of chasing online giant Amazon by buying specialized retail websites and matching its free shipping offers. Customers are not only placing more orders, said Marc Lore, CEO, of Walmart eCommerce U.S., said in a call with reporters, but “they’re coming back, and they’re spending more.’’

Walmart’s moves to make its stores more appealing, with improved purchase pick-up areas and a broader offering of fresh foods, also helped Walmart U.S. as it reported a 1.5% increase in traffic in a quarter when retail rivals like Macy’s and Target saw sales slip.

An increase in shoppers led Walmart stores in the U.S. open at least a year to post a 1.4% uptick in sales. While the sales news was good, earnings were fairly flat: Walmart posted net income of $3.03 billion, down 1.3% from the $3.07 billion earned during the same quarter last year. That amounted to $1 earnings per share, beating analysts expectations per share by 4 cents.

Walmart has been trying to capitalize on its network of 4,700 stores by offering perks to those who would rather make purchases on their smartphones or laptops and come to pick them up. It now offers more than 50 million items online vs. 10 million at this time last year. And it recently began offering discounts on roughly 10,000 items that are online exclusives if shoppers are willing to pick them up at a local store. The selection will grow to more than 1 million by the end of next month.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Charisse Jones