BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart’s investments in its people and in technology are paying off as the giant company seeks to “reimagine retail” and find new opportunities for growth.
Speaking to an audience of 14,000 people — including shareholders and employees from around the world — at the company’s annual meeting earlier this month, president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon detailed his vision for how Walmart will succeed.
“We want to be the first place busy families go to save money and time, especially on their everyday needs,” he said. “We’re connecting all the parts of Walmart into one seamless shopping experience with great stores, easy pickup, fast delivery, and apps and websites that are simple to use.”
At the annual shareholders meeting, and during the week that preceded it, Walmart detailed some of the ways it is working to deliver on that promise. The company unveiled a new Neighborhood Market prototype in Fayetteville, Ark., for example. The store has an updated look and an emphasis on services — including pharmacy and store pickup — and fresh food. Walmart also expressed a willingness to invest more on real estate in order to make sure that it secures the best locations for its Neighborhood Market stores, so that they appeal to customers and maximize sales.
Walmart also revealed that it is testing the use of drones to track inventory in its distribution centers and is working with Uber to test home deliveries to customers from its U.S. stores and warehouse clubs.
Walmart’s embrace of technology was one of the themes executives explored during the annual meeting. Neil Ashe, president and chief executive officer of global e-commerce at Walmart, explained some of the ways customers can use their smartphones and other technology to improve their shopping experience in the store.
“Scan and Go allows you to skip the checkout line,” Ashe said. “The Walmart app allows you to refill a prescription by scanning the number.
“Walmart Pay works with any smartphone or payment method. We’ve been testing it, and this month we’re rolling it out across the entire U.S.”
Technology is not the only area where Walmart is investing more. The company has raised its starting wage for store associates, and it is also improving training. The company expects to reach 500,000 associates this year with its Pathways interactive training program, which is designed to improve job skills and foster behaviors that will help associates advance their careers and serve customers better. The retailer has also established training academies at some stores to teach department and assistant store managers how to deliver improved customer service.
McMillon said that three steps are critical to Walmart’s reinvention: supporting and engaging Walmart associates, serving customers, and serving communities.
“As the world becomes more digital, it will be the humanity of Walmart that differentiates us and wins with customers,” McMillon told the store associates in attendance at the event. “Our investments in education and training, store structure, wages, hours, and sales floor technology are to support you and enable you to serve your customers and members. Every associate has a role to play. The actions of 2.3 million of you add up to something big.”
The retailer’s efforts are paying off, he said, noting that Walmart associates in the United States are more engaged, merchandise assortment is improving, and inventory flow is better. Walmart has also introduced online grocery pickup services in nearly 40 markets.
“We’ll be there for our customers — making their lives simpler and better,” he said. “And customers will choose Walmart because we’ve earned it.”