Wal-Mart, which ended its longstanding store greeter tradition in 2012, is bringing them back to most of its 5,000 or so U.S. stores in an effort to make those locations more customer-friendly and theft-proof.
Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton started the greeter tradition, but in an effort to trim costs, the company four years ago shifted greeters from entrances over to crowded aisles, and gave them customer-assistance tasks like helping with returns.
Wal-Mart hopes the greeters' presence will help deter thieves, who’ve lifted some $300 million worth of products from its shelves each year, according to Fortune.
The condition of Wal-Mart stores and inventory, and the quality of its customer service, have been targeted for improvement by U.S. CEO Greg Foran, who last summer said half the stores need help and that a third were still lacking.
“Providing customers with an excellent first impression is part of Wal-Mart’s broader strategy to ensure simpler, more convenient shopping,” Wal-Mart said in a blog post Wednesday. “Focusing more on our greeters is one of a whole host of details we’re looking at—it just happens to be a very visible one.”
The push to better pay and train store associates, and to have them return to greeting customers and offering help, is likely reflected in the improvements in Wal-Mart's customer experience measured by Cowen and Co. late last year. Cowen found that 75% of 2,506 Wal-Mart customers surveyed said they are satisfied with their overall shopping experience, and 60% were satisfied with the customer service. Both measurements were the best in about two years, though they still lag behind Wal-Mart rival Target.
Target, which beats Wal-Mart on measures of overall customer experience and customer satisfaction, has been able to attract a wider array of customers thanks to its design focus and fewer issues with inventory or store condition.
Target also hasn’t faced the labor issues that have plagued Wal-Mart, which may serve to exacerbate Wal-Mart's downmarket reputation. The National Labor Relations Board in late April alleged in a complaint that Wal-Mart engaged in several unfair labor practices, including failing to allow a worker to have a co-worker accompany him or her into a disciplinary “open door” meeting.