At its 46th annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, AR, Friday, Wal-Mart emphasized optimism, technology, and the future, with CEO Doug McMillon saying, “We have the opportunity to reimagine retail again.”
Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran noted the company had doubled sales of local produce in the U.S. over the last six years, and said that as the “world’s biggest grocer,” the company is “focused on winning in fresh,” and building direct relationships with grocery suppliers.
Executives said that investments in higher wages, cleaner stores, and technology were all paying off. But some Wal-Mart worker advocates say that the company is finding ways to keep its starting pay below $10 per hour by scaling back merit pay and keeping wages lower during training periods that last longer than a year.
At the retailer’s big meeting Friday, McMillon gave a recap of the company’s goals, including better stores and a modern supply chain in China where the company’s “moving aggressively," improvements in customer service, inventory, and merchandise, and installing Walmart Pay in every U.S. store by the end of this month.
“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," McMillon told the more than 14,000 attendees, according to a company blog post. "Every associate has a role to play. The actions of 2.3 million of you add up to something big.”
He and other executives took special pains to note the company's many technology and startup ventures, including same-day delivery partnerships with Uber, Lyft, and Deliv, its experimentation with drones in fulfillment centers, and the success of Walmart Pay.
Executives also took a tour of a test store in Arkansas that demonstrates new signage, better lighting, local food and drink, and pickup kiosks making by online, pick up in store easier—store improvements that are being tested for possible use in other stores, reports The Street.
But with all these initiatives, McMillon made sure to assure the retailer would also be keeping prices low. Wal-Mart is looking to drastically lower prices on several core items in 500 stores, aiming to keep them lower indefinitely—well beyond the usual 90 days for price “rollbacks."
Beyond saving them dollars, McMillon also said he wants Wal-Mart to save consumers time. It’s likely that the company’s investments in technology and its idea of a “new era in retail” will help in that effort. But when it comes to order fulfillment, even in the era of low-price speedy delivery, consumers have generally had to choose between saving drastically on time or money.
Even for the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, e-commerce is an expensive proposition, and retailers may not yet have a good handle on what omnichannel services like in-store pickup of online orders is costing them, according to a report last week by RSR Research.
Certainly for Wal-Mart there’s room to grow: Although the company doesn’t pull out its online sales, in the last two quarters they were estimated to account for just 7% to 8% of overall sales.