NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s largest retailer keeps working to make headway against the largest online seller.

Wal-Mart drew more shoppers to its namesake stores in the United States and its online sales soared 29 percent in the fourth quarter, which covers the critical holiday shopping season. That’s an indication that its efforts to lower prices and improve web services are helping it compete better against Amazon, which has built fierce loyalty with its Prime two-day shipping program.

Like other traditional retailers, Wal-Mart has been trying to improve its online operations to challenge Amazon, which accounted for 33 percent of total U.S. online sales last year, according to the research firm Euromonitor. Wal-Mart moved into second place last year ahead of eBay, accounting for 7.8 percent of online sales, up from 7.4 percent in 2015. But Wal-Mart’s online sales still only account for about 3 percent of its global sales, or about $14 billion. That compares with $94 billion in global net product sales for Amazon.com.

The holiday shopping season was tough for many retailers, underscoring the changes they need to make. Macy’s reported another quarter of sluggish sales, even as it’s been scrambling for new ways to bring shoppers in and beef up online services. And Target Corp., one of Wal-Mart’s main rivals, warned last month of weak sales for the holiday season. It reports final figures next week.

“We believe Wal-Mart is continuing to generate critical and increasing traction online,” said Moody’s retail analyst Charlie O’Shea.

Wal-Mart has retooled its online shopping programs and bought up some smaller companies with online strengths. And its aggressive effort to harness the power of its huge number of stores with its online business is starting to take form.

“We’re moving with speed to become more of a digital enterprise and better serve our customers,” CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement.

Last year, Wal-Mart spent more than $3 billion for Jet.com in a deal aimed at helping it attract younger and more affluent customers. Since then, it purchased online footwear retailer ShoeBuy.com for $70 million and the outdoor and gear seller Moosejaw for $51 million. These sites are operating as stand-alone sites. Wal-Mart last year also raised its stake in JD.com, China’s No. 2 e-commerce site.

Marc Lore, the founder of Jet.com who is now CEO of Walmart.com, said Tuesday the company is still looking for new startups to buy. Under Lore, the company has quadrupled the number of items available on its third-party online marketplace to more than 35 million.

Wal-Mart said it’s working to accelerate the integration between Wal-Mart.com and Jet.com, and trying to take advantage of its scale in areas like shipping and sharing its product selection.

Moving closer to the terms of Amazon’s powerhouse Prime program, Wal-Mart is now offering free two-day shipping on online orders of its most popular items with a minimum purchase order of $35. Amazon Prime costs $99 a year, but comes with services like streaming music and video.

Wal-Mart executives said Tuesday that shoppers are responding well to the program. In a move to rival Wal-Mart’s latest tactic, Amazon, however, quietly posted on its website over the weekend that it was dropping threshold for free shipping for non-Prime members to $35 from $50. But that applies to standard shipping of five to eight days, not two-day delivery.

Besides melding its online and store businesses so shoppers can jump back and forth, Wal-Mart is has launched changes designed to make its stores cleaner and its customer service friendlier and faster. The company has invested $2.7 billion in higher wages and training for workers, a move that it says has helped to lower turnover and improve customer service.

Wal-Mart saw the biggest gain in a key revenue measure in its U.S business in four years, marking the tenth consecutive increase. The number of customers rose for the ninth straight quarter. And the online sales gain of 29 percent, up from 20.6 percent in the previous period, marked the third straight quarter of gains.

Still, Wal-Mart is feeling some short-term pain. It reported fourth-quarter earnings that fell 18 percent as it spent money on online upgrades and stores. The results did beat Wall Street expectations. And total sales were hurt by a stronger U.S. dollar, which is making its international business more challenging.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also said Tuesday it has seen sales weaken at the beginning of the first quarter in part because a slowdown in tax refunds amid a new tax rule. And it warned that any tax on imported goods, as in a proposal Republicans in Congress have floated, would raise prices and would hurt shoppers.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company earned $3.76 billion, or $1.22 per share in the three months ended Jan. 31. That compares with $4.57 billion, or $1.43 per share, a year ago. Excluding certain items, earnings per share were $1.30. Sales excluding membership fees rose 0.8 percent to $129.75 billion.

Analysts had expected earnings of $1.28 per share on revenue of $131.13 billion, according to FactSet.

The company forecasts earnings per share of 90 cents to $1 for the first quarter and $4.20 to $4.40 for the year. Analysts expect 96 cents per share for the first quarter and $4.32 per share for the year, according to FactSet.

Wal-Mart’s share rose 3 percent, or $2.08, to close at $71.45 on Tuesday.

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s nail-biter election is heading to a runoff after results showed ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno falling just shy of the votes needed to clench a first-round victory, officials said Tuesday.

With nearly 95 percent of all votes officially tallied, the current results are “irreversible,” said Juan Pablo Pozo Bahamonde, president of the National Electoral Council.

The results end two days of suspense as supporters of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso took to the streets to protest what they said was an attempt at fraud to favor Moreno, President Rafael Correa’s hand-picked successor.

The small Andean country will now hold a second-round of voting on April 2, an election that will remain closely watched in Latin America as Moreno faces off against Lasso, a conservative former banker. The region has shifted right over the last 18 months, as conservative leaders in Argentina, Brazil and Peru have assumed power after the end of a commodities boom that boosted leftists like Correa.

Several losing candidates who shared Lasso’s conservative agenda and fatigue with Correa’s iron-fisted rule have already thrown their support behind Lasso for the second round, including former congresswoman Cynthia Viteri, who finished third with more than 16 percent. Former Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo, the only leftist among the seven trailing candidates, said he wouldn’t ask the 7 percent of voters who backed him to vote for either candidate in the runoff.

“Most opposition voters will probably end up supporting Lasso in a head to head contest focused on change versus continuity,” the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, wrote in an analysis.

The analysts speculated that the delay in announcing the vote result would help unify opposition support for Lasso.

The slow result announcement was the first time in recent memory that Ecuadorean authorities had not declared a winner on election night. Lasso’s supporters gathered in the streets in front of the National Electoral Council overnight Sunday and Monday to demand that a runoff be confirmed.

Rumors swirled on social media as the vote results trickled into a third day Wednesday. A group of people broke down a door at a building in Quito where ballots were supposedly being burned. Outside an electoral office in Guayaquil, police erected barricades to keep supporters and opponents of Correa apart. The Defense Ministry issued a statement denying reports that some sort of military uprising was underway.

“Ecuadorean people: You have won. We’re going to defend this victory,” Lasso told supporters in a video message in which he urged protesters to stay mobilized. He said he had called several regional presidents and the head of the Organization of American States to express his concern.

Electoral authorities appealed for calm, saying it could take until Wednesday to know if a runoff would be necessary. They said the delay was due to the slow arrival of ballots cast in remote rural regions and consulates abroad as well as inconsistencies on tally sheets that needed to be sorted through.

In a press conference Tuesday, Moreno said that he was prepared to go into a second-round if needed and believed he would solidly defeat Lasso.

“Our message is one of peace, justice and respect for institutions,” he wrote on Twitter after the results were announced.

A self-declared “21st century socialist,” Correa was elected president in 2007 and he won praise for ushering in stability for Ecuador after a severe economic crisis that saw three presidents toppled by street protests and the adoption of the U.S. dollar to control rampant inflation.

But Correa also drew criticism for his iron-fisted approach against much of the press, opposition and judiciary.

The sheen on his administration also has been tarnished as once-flush government budgets were cut and thousands of employees at state-run companies laid off amid a decline in oil revenues for the OPEC nation. The International Monetary Fund has forecast Ecuador’s economy to shrink 2.7 percent this year and many analysts predict that Correa’s successor will have to seek a bailout from the multilateral lender.

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Vote counting in Ecuador’s presidential election dragged into a third day Tuesday with ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno still just short of a definitive first-round victory and supporters and opponents of outgoing President Rafael Correa trading heated accusations.

With the last ballots trickling in from Sunday’s election, Moreno had a little over 39 percent of the votes and an almost 11-point lead over conservative Guillermo Lasso, a former banker who finished second in a field of nine candidates. But Moreno remained just under a point below the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid an April runoff.

It was the first time in recent memory that Ecuadorean authorities had not declared a winner on election night, leading Lasso and many of his supporters to charge that an attempt at fraud was underway as Correa’s leftist movement sought to hold onto power at a time the rest of South America has shifted to the right. But Lasso’s side did not present any evidence of irregularities.

In a series of Tweets Tuesday morning, Correa accused the “losers” of taking advantage of the vote-by-vote count to generate violence and talk of fraud.

“No one doubts who overwhelmingly won the first round,” Correa wrote. “There is doubt over whether there will be a second round or not.”

Late Monday, hundreds of Lasso supporters hunkered down in a heavy rain outside the National Electoral Council for a second night to demand that a runoff be confirmed. By early Tuesday their numbers in Quito had thinned considerably.

“Ecuadorean people: You have won. We’re going to defend this victory,” Lasso told supporters in a video message in which he urged protesters to stay mobilized. He said he had called several regional presidents and the head of the Organization of American States to express his concern.

“It’s very strange that here in the 21st century the results aren’t known the same day as the election,” Lasso later told the NTN24 network, saying that he did not trust Ecuadorean electoral authorities.

Moreno, who served as Correa’s vice president from 2006 to 2013, was emphatic that he won outright.

With more than 93 percent of polling stations reporting Tuesday, he remained ahead with slightly more than 39 percent of the vote compared to 28 percent for Lasso.

“It’s striking to me that there is a loser politician out there calling for violence,” Moreno said at a news conference Monday night. “This can’t be tolerated. We’re a nation of peace and we want to continue that way.” He said he would respect the final count, whatever the outcome.

Rumors swirled on social media about the vote count. A group of people broke down a door at a building in Quito where ballots were supposedly being burned. Outside an electoral office in Guayaquil, police erected barricades to keep supporters and opponents of Correa apart. The Defense Ministry issued a statement denying reports that some sort of military uprising was underway.

Electoral authorities appealed for calm, saying it could take until Wednesday to know if a runoff would be necessary. They said the delay was due to slow arrival of ballots cast in remote rural regions and consulates abroad as well as inconsistencies on tally sheets that needed to be sorted through.

Observers from the Washington-based Organization of American States told electoral authorities that it was important to count the ballots as quickly and as transparently as possible, and urged them to continue informing the public of their progress to shore up credibility in the process.

The outcome of the race is being watched closely in Latin America, where conservative leaders in Argentina, Brazil and Peru have assumed power in the past 18 months after the end of a commodities boom that boosted leftists like Correa.

A self-declared “21st century socialist,” Correa was elected president in 2007 and he won praise for ushering in stability for Ecuador after a severe economic crisis that saw three presidents toppled by street protests and the adoption of the U.S. dollar to control rampant inflation.

But Correa also drew criticism for his iron-fisted approach against much of the press, opposition and judiciary.

The sheen on his administration also has been tarnished as once-flush government budgets were cut and thousands of employees at state-run companies laid off amid a decline in oil revenues for the OPEC nation. The International Monetary Fund has forecast Ecuador’s economy to shrink 2.7 percent this year and many analysts predict that Correa’s successor will have to seek a bailout from the multilateral lender.

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Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Bruce Brown had a tough night from the field, and yet, with the ball in his hands and Miami in need of a basket, the freshman guard put his faith in loads of summertime shooting work.

Brown made a 3-pointer with 23.8 seconds left in overtime and the Hurricanes beat No. 18 Virginia 54-48 on Monday night for the Cavaliers’ fourth straight loss.

“I caught it in rhythm, and my only thought was to put it up because he was playing a bit off me,” Brown said.

The 3-pointer was only his second field goal of the night, but it gave Miami a 50-48 lead.

Brown scored 14 points to lead the Hurricanes (19-8, 9-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) to their third consecutive victory, moving them out of a tie with Virginia and into sixth in the league. Kamari Murphy and Dejan Vasiljevic added 10 points each.

“I think this young team is finally catching our stride,” senior guard Davon Reed said. “To be able to pull three in a row out is big for us.”

Devon Hall scored 15 points to lead Virginia (18-9, 8-7), which lost its fourth in a row for the first time since Tony Bennett’s first season as coach in 2009-10. Isaiah Wilkins added 10 points and 10 rebounds, including two free throws with four seconds left in regulation to tie it.

“It was there for the taking, and we didn’t,” Bennett said. “It’s where we’re at. Our inexperience is showing.”

Bennett especially lamented that the Cavaliers couldn’t pull it out on a night they honored last year’s ACC player of the year and defensive player of the year Malcolm Brogdon, now with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, by retiring his No. 15 jersey.

The offensively challenged Cavaliers used 12-0 run in a span of 2:24 to open a 35-24 lead with 12 minutes to play, but just as quickly, they went cold, not scoring for nearly six minutes thereafter.

“I think our defense tightened up,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We played a little smaller group, and that worked pretty effectively.”

Miami thought it had won when Reed hit a 3-pointer at the end of the second half, but a video review was used to determine he released the ball just after the buzzer.

In the overtime, a putback by Marial Shayok with 39 seconds left gave the Cavaliers a 48-47 lead, but Brown made his only 3-pointer of the game on the Hurricanes’ ensuing possession, and Miami sealed it at the free-throw line. The made 20 of 22 free-throw attempts.

STRUGGLING

Virginia’s lone senior and top scorer, London Perrantes, had his fourth forgettable game in a row, scoring just four points.

During the Cavaliers’ losing streak, he’s made 16 of 58 attempts, just 27.6 percent, and just 5 of 28 3-point tries.

He’s also averaging 37.5 minutes in those games, which include a double-overtime game and Monday night’s overtime.

“I think at this time of the year, you probably see signs of fatigue in all players,” Larranaga said.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes have only nine scholarship players on their roster, and only eight were available against Virginia because junior guard Ja’Quan Newton was sitting out the final game of a three-game suspension for violating team rules. Of the eight remaining, four are true freshmen and two of them, Vasiljevic and Brown, hit the biggest shots of the night at John Paul Jones Arena.

Virginia: The Cavaliers had difficulty scoring in the previous two games, with a scoring average of 48 points in losses to Duke and North Carolina. The 12-0 run was a surprising departure from those struggles, but the Cavaliers missed the front end of three consecutive 1-and-1 free-throw opportunities, and Miami quickly closed a 35-24 deficit to 35-31. Virginia was 13 of 20 from the line.

UP NEXT

Miami returns home to face surging, 10th-ranked Duke on Saturday.

Virginia plays at North Carolina State on Saturday.

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More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Kei Nishikori and the Rio Open will be upstaged this week. He’s the top-seeded player, but not the best show in town.

That’s because it’s Carnival week in Rio de Janeiro, where tennis will play second-fiddle to the sensuous samba rhythms, street revelers, and the famous all-night parades at the Sambadrome.

“If I win, yes, maybe I’ll go,” Nishikori said on Monday, admitting he didn’t realize it was that special week in Rio.

Across town at the Sambadrome, a group of Japanese tourists who will participate in the parades urged him to attend.

“Yes, he should come by,” Kei Kuwabara told the Associcated Press. Kuwabara said he was a member of a samba school in Yokohama, and planned to march with the Magueira School, one of Rio’s most popular samba groups.

“There are a lot of Japanese who love samba and practice samba all year round to prepare for samba carnivals like here,” Kuwabara said.

Brazil and Japan have special connections: Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, with some 2 million Brazilians tracing their ancestry back to the Asian nation.

Many Japanese have ties, but Nishikori doesn’t appear to be one.

Asked if could dance samba, Nishikori replied with a sheepish “No.”

Nishikori, who is No. 5 in the world rankings, could be out of the tournament early if he’s not careful. He faces local Thomaz Bellucci in the first round. Nishikori defeated Bellucci two years ago at the French Open in three tight sets.

“He’s a great player on clay, especially here,” Nishikori said. “I’m expecting a tough, tough battle.”

Nishikori won the Memphis Open for four straight years, but decided to abandon the indoor hard-court tournament this season to play in Rio. He’s won two of his 11 singles titles on clay, but it’s not his favorite.

“Maybe I still like hard-court a little better, but I’m feeling very comfortable playing on clay now,” he said.

He lost the final of the clay-court Argentina Open on Sunday against Alexandr Dolgopolov.

This is Nishikori’s first trip to Rio since he won an Olympic bronze medal here six months ago.

“I didn’t go out (during the Olympics),” he said. “I’m not sure what the city looks like. But I’ll try to enjoy this week.”

Perhaps by starting with a swaying samba at the Sambadrome.

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AP video journalist Renata Brito contributed to this report.

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWade . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade

 

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Ever since those famous words were spoken by Neil Armstrong as the world’s first moonwalk took place in 1969, generations have wondered what it’s like to walk on the moon. Not NASA astronaut? No problem. There’s a new shoe that’ll help you defy gravity right here on Earth. Meet the 2016 Moon Walker.

The innovative design of this footwear will set your feet soaring. These shoes are lightweight and water resistant on the outside, with DuPont Tyvek synthetic polyethylene on the inside (same stuff used by NASA on their space station modules!) The souls are made with foot-snuggling memory foam.

Then there’s the magical moon-walking sensation. It’s created by strategically placing the north poles of two thin-but-powerful N45 Neodymium magnets so that they’re facing. As they strongly repel one another, there’s a strip of air between them, so that you’re quite literally walking on air.

Moon Walkers are also smart shoes, featuring an E-Ink screen around the base controlled by a smart phone app, so you can customize and integrate with your social networks. Would you wear them?

Vote and tell us what you think — you can even submit video comments to nbt@channelone.com. We will feature the results of the poll and some of your comments on the show!