Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is testing a new employment approach in 500 U.S. stores, mostly on the West Coast, cutting as many as 1,500 workers currently dedicated to accounting and invoicing tasks and shifting them to customer-facing positions like online pickup associates and pharmacy technicians, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Wal-Mart wants to get workers out of the back office and into roles where they can interact more closely with shoppers, a company spokesperson told the Associated Press. The move will affect two or three people per store. Affected workers who accept the consumer-facing store positions can’t expect the same pay rate, however; new positions will pay $17.55 per hour.
Wal-Mart adds that the accounting and invoicing chores in impacted stores will shift to the company’s Bentonville, AR headquarters. It also will use "cash recycler" machines that automatically count money.
Faced with messy stores and empty shelves in many areas of the country, Wal-Mart has been focused on logistical improvements as well as boosting customer service. Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Greg Foran said last summer that half of its stores need help.
“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 last month. “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.”
Executives at Wal-Mart's 46th annual shareholders meeting earlier this month said that investments in higher wages, cleaner stores and technology are all paying off. The improvements also are reflected in Wal-Mart's customer experience gains measured by Cowen and Co. late last year. Cowen found that 75% of 2,506 Wal-Mart customers surveyed expressed satisfaction with their overall shopping experience, and 60% reported satisfaction with the customer service. Both measurements were the best in about two years, although they still lag behind Wal-Mart rival Target.
But some Wal-Mart worker advocates say that the company is finding ways to limit 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.