By Carlo Versano

When will we start thinking of Walmart as the e-commerce giant that it is?

The world's largest retailer beat its earnings expectations Thursday, in part due to the strength of its online sales, which grew 43 percent in the quarter. By the end of the year, Walmart's ($WMT) e-commerce sales will account for 4 percent of all U.S. online retail spending, according to a new report from eMarketer. That will make it bigger than Apple ($AAPL)ー at least in terms of its share of the e-commerce pie, behind only eBay ($EBAY) and, of course, Amazon ($AMZN).

"It's the strongest number we've seen this year," said Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research at Refinitiv, referring to Walmart's e-commerce growth.

A couple years ago, Walmart retrenched and decided to pin its acquisition strategy on up-and-coming, high-end, direct-to-consumer brands that already resonated with millennials who were not part of Walmart's core customer base. It snatched up Bonobos, the hip men's clothier,, an Amazon-esque online general store, Eloquii, a plus-size women's brand, Bare Necessities, a lingerie start-up, and Moosejaw, an outdoor specialist, among others.

And it isn't done. Marc Lore, Walmart's head of e-commerce ー a job he was given after he sold Jet to Walmart for $3 billion ー said he's willing to buy 40 or more of these niche brands.

Another bright spot in the earnings was grocery pick-up and delivery. Walmart is the largest grocer in the U.S, with 23 percent of the market. In the last year, it has heavily invested in grocery pick-up at more than 2,000 stores and grocery delivery at 600 locations ー and counting.

Amazon, through its acquisition of Whole Foods, has been building out its own grocery delivery service, offering free same-day delivery to Prime members in some urban markets.

While it has a long way to go to compete with the online dominance of Amazon, which owns nearly half the e-commerce market, Walmart has something Amazon lacks: real estate, and lots of it. Ninety percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store, giving it built-in infrastructure to test pick-up and delivery services ー like groceries ー that younger shoppers have now come to expect.

Walmart's online strategy appears to be "resonating well" with consumers, Martis said. Grocery sales are at a nine-year high, and e-commerce sales will grow 40 percent this year alone, thanks to a redesigned website and the digitally native acquisitions begin to pay off.

The question remains whether any of this will help create a halo effect for Walmart's overall brand in the eyes of the millennial consumers it covets.

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