Wal-Mart, which recently lost its status as the world’s largest retailer to Amazon, has brought back some of its hometown charm.
After a four-year hiatus, Wal-Mart has once more decided to position “greeters” at its store entrances. In 2012, the retailer announced it would do away with front-door greeters, reassigning many of the employees to other tasks such as tidying shelves and expediting checkouts. But warm welcomes were not the only loss resulting from this decision. The retailer sacrificed a core tradition, as well as a substantial sum of money due to increased shoplifting.
Last June, Wal-Mart began re-experimenting with greeters to minimize the problem of “shrink.” Damaged and stolen merchandise accounted for a profit margin decrease of more than .1 percent in 2014 -- a significant amount when you consider that Wal-Mart raked in $288 billion in the U.S. that year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
By the middle of this summer, Wal-Mart greeters will return to a majority of the chain’s 5,000-plus U.S. stores. At some locations, individuals stationed up front will check in with customers as they leave, making sure their receipts reflect the items they carry with them. This precaution goes both ways, also screening for customers attempting to return items they never purchased from the store in the first place.
In addition to stopping thieves in their tracks, the greeters are a Wal-Mart tradition. The retailer’s late founder, Sam Walton, came up with the concept. Personal touches such as interactions from greeters “[provide] competitors with a customer service challenge to be reckoned with,” wrote author Michael Bergdahl in his 2004 book, What I Learned From Sam Walton: How to Compete and Thrive in a Wal-Mart World.
Other upgrades Wal-Mart has made in recent months include raising worker wages, keeping the stores cleaner and increasing the number of open cash registers during busy hours. The logic behind these changes is to improve the attitudes of both employees and customers, which will create a better experience for shoppers and make them more inclined to spend more, according to the Associated Press.
But the store fights its biggest rivals on the ecommerce front. Wal-Mart policy allows customers to request price matches of products also available via online retailers such as Amazon and Target. The company has devised new distribution strategies and shipping discount programs to keep up, and last year, Wal-Mart announced it would invest more than $1.2 billion in ecommerce in 2015 alone.
Smiling retirees may bolster service and security at brick-and-mortar locations, but it’s uncertain whether they’ll have any bearing on Wal-Mart’s ability to keep up with algorithmically personalized electronic marketplaces.