Walmart U.S. chief Greg Foran declined to outline the categories in which it would invest in price, but said the company knows where the price gaps are. He and CEO Doug McMillon added there are some categories where it's important to compete on price — for example, consumer packaged goods brands that are sold elsewhere — and those where quality also plays a role, such as produce.
"We know it's part of our heritage," Foran said.
Also Wednesday, Wal-Mart told investors that its operating income is expected to be impacted by about $1.5 billion next year, mostly because of its decision to hike starting wages and provide better training for its workers. That would contribute to an earnings per share decline between 6 and 12 percent in the next fiscal year, CFO Charles Holley said.
That could have ripple effects across the industry, which has been under increasing pressure to raise wages in the wake of Wal-Mart's move.
The world's largest retailer also said that it expects sales to be flat during the current fiscal year, though excluding currency headwinds, they would be up 3 percent.
Although retail stocks tanked after Wal-Mart's announcement, Stifel Nicolaus analyst David Schick, who has a "hold" rating on the retailer, disagreed that it is a bad sign for retail overall.
"Sure, at the margin, Wal-Mart paying associates more and 'investing in price' won't help competitor margins, in our view," Schick wrote in a note to investors. "But we really think Wal-Mart should be seen as righting past wrongs [over-earning] or modernizing its business model over the next few years."
Cowen and Company analyst Oliver Chen, who has a "market perform" rating on Wal-Mart, likewise called attention to the ongoing improvement at its U.S. stores. In a research note, he said that management indicated positive traffic and comparable-store sales momentum should continue into next year.