Walmart Greeters Get New Assignment

Discussion
Jan 31, 2012

A lot of changes have taken place at Walmart over the years since Sam Walton’s passing, but the latest may have him flipping over in his grave.

Walmart will be moving greeters from its lobbies and closer to cash registers in a move designed to better assist shoppers and apparently save the company money. It’s also eliminating greeters from late-night shifts at its 24-hour stores.

During non late-night shifts hours, greeters are being moved closer to checkout zones to help direct shoppers to products or shorter checkout lines.

"It’s a better position inside the store," David Tovar, a Walmart spokesperson, told Bloomberg News. "The greeters will be able to assist customers in more effective ways. Whether they are coming in the door or are 15 feet away, they will still be able to greet people."

At the same time, the greeter job during the third shift — 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. — is being eliminated. Those greeters are being reassigned to handle typical associate jobs during those hours, including restocking inventory as well as directing customers.

"We realized that it wasn’t necessary to have people greeting customers because it wasn’t peak shopping hours," Mr. Tovar told Bloomberg. "It was meant to operate stores as efficiently as possible, which is also part of our DNA."

Several reports heralded the move as a break from a long-time tradition as Walmart focuses on reviving margins and sales. Sam Walton first brought in greeters in 1980 particularly to make the stores comfortable for older shoppers. Beyond welcoming shoppers, the job was designed to provide an aura of safety to the front of the store as well as extra protection against shoplifters.

What exactly does a greeter’s job entail?

Walmart provided some insiight in its "first poll" of greeters that was conducted in 1999. The press release described greeters as, "part host ("Welcome to Walmart"), part psychologist ("If you were my husband, would you wear this?") and part traffic cop ("Where’s the bathroom?").

When asked to rank the most important things they do as greeters, 93 percent agreed with "smiling," followed by greeting any shopper within 10 feet (90 percent).

The most common questions asked of greeters included: "Can I have a happy face sticker?" and "What should I buy my wife for Christmas?" From children, the most frequently asked questions were: "Where are the toys?", "Where’s the bathroom?", and "Where’s my mom and dad?"

Discussion Questions: What do you think of Walmart’s move to change the role of its greeters? How much more or less important is the greeter position today than when Sam Walton first introduced it at Walmart?

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40 Comments on "Walmart Greeters Get New Assignment"


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John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
9 years 10 months ago

The greeter at Walmart was a staple to the shopper experience and something people discussed and appreciated. I am sure that if Sam was still alive, the removal of greeters would not be happening. Sam was 100% focused and committed to customer excellence, which ultimately drove revenue and growth. Today, Walmart is more focused on Wall Street which hinders its ability to think longer term and the impact of moves like this.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Those are all nice cute answers when asked about the role of a greeter. The way I see it, their job is 90% loss prevention. Keeping an eye out for shoplifters and being one more line of defense, one more set of eyes on the ground, and one more reason a shoplifter might chicken out. No company wants to admit the little old lady is there to discourage shoplifting, that doesn’t sound politically correct. But every job in the store is designed to boost the bottom line.

Ronnie Perchik
Guest
Ronnie Perchik
9 years 10 months ago

The greeter position is so important. Retailers should strive to personalize the shopping experience for consumers, and greeters help to do that. Hire the right people, with the right personality, and ensure they are always available for the customer, and there’s no doubt that people in that store will have a warmer feeling about their trip in.

Specifically, in terms of Walmart’s slight shift in the greeter’s role, it’s a non-issue, I think. We’re just talking about increasing efficiency. But I say, take the next step Walmart! Introduce emerging technologies, like many retailers are these days, into the role of the Walmart greeter.

Give them access to the internet, or even a local intranet, with pertinent info like store plans, product info, local promotions, sampling stations in the store, etc. So not only do you get the “smile” from the Walmart greeter, but they come equipped with a mountain of information to make the shopping experience swift and convenient.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Greeters are still important to Walmart. They are a welcome tradition as customers walk into the store. At a time when it’s hard to find a sales associate on the floor, a greeter can save consumers time, by offering directions to areas of the stores, particularly the larger Walmarts. Could Walmart do without them? Probably, but the big box store would be a bit less friendly.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Good move — don’t know that I need a cheery face at 2 a.m. and putting them in a more useful location should be fine. A store can always move them back if there is pushback.

Verlin Youd
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Change is inevitable, however, it’s always a challenge to balance change with values, beliefs and resulting traditions. Walmart has made a succession of seemingly small changes over the last several years, even including successive incremental changes to their logo: Wal*Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-mart, Walmart and exchanging the smiley face with a stylized sun.

It will be interesting to see how Walmart handles this most recent change, however, it is likely that the greeter will quickly disappear and be absorbed into their front-end staffing model — a model that continues to be one that frustrates customers already.

This seems like another incremental change that on its own may not seem important, but is further evidence of Walmart’s ongoing transition to a more mainstream retailer, and not necessarily for the better.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

First of all the lady in the picture is half the age of any ‘Greeter’ I’ve ever seen. Who sent that one in? Here’s my thing: treat seniors with the dignity and respect they deserve or stop the facade. My bet is that if it wouldn’t look so heartless, they’d drop this whole greeter thing like a hot rock.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

If handled correctly the new positioning of greeters can be even more effective than the current smiling face you see upon entering the store. Shoppers need help once they have started shopping, or are getting ready to check out and the greeters can be effective at answering questions or directing shoppers to shorter checkout lines. Sam Walton changed with the times and would expect his management to change to meet shifting shopping patterns and meet store needs.

The real cost could be if shrink levels rise and only an evaluation after several inventories will determine if shoplifting is on the increase from both the new positioning and the elimination of overnight greeters. I am sure the people at Walmart have already thought this through.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Checkout lane management is becoming a more important part of the customer service process. Most customers would prefer an efficient experience at the end of their store visit, rather than the traditional Walmart “greeting.” I agree with this move, especially if it is expense-neutral.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Breaking some traditions in retail is undoubtedly a good thing. This wouldn’t be a good example.

The “Greeter” is part of the Walmart experience and, in stores not always known for killer customer service, sometimes the friendliest (only friendly?) face a customer might encounter. It never made economic sense to have a greeter, (David’s point about shrink noted, I’ve never seen a greeter chase a shoplifter,) but that wasn’t the point. If Walmart’s economics are so fragile that they are worried about changing such a signature part of their operation, they have much bigger issues which, come to think of it, they do.

Matt Schmitt
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I don’t know about their role in assisting near checkout, but I do think there can be better uses for store associates in areas of the store other than at the entrance. Assisting the shopper on their journey is important, and actively doing so further into the journey could be more beneficial.

It would be great if retailers could distinguish “Guest Services Assistants” with unique clothing, etc, in order to let the shopper know they are available and willing to help. So often the shoppers journey is less than ideal because they are looking around for store associates and are afraid or unsure about who to ask for help.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 10 months ago

It is good that companies that think change their practices occasionally in order to keep them in tune with better things that arise, such as advances in technology. But ….

What Sam Walton intended by having greeters at the door has been changed from a warm aura of sincere welcome into an effort to cut down on possible shoplifting. It’s a tradeoff I doubt Sam had envisioned.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Facing the higher costs of operating a business with lower traffic and sales results, the retail executives in today’s economy are scrutinizing inventory levels and floor coverage as a means to stabilize the cost of the sales side of the balance sheet. Red ink, or the fear of it is the catalyst behind stymied marketing experiments. Adding weight to this enormous ball and chain is the misplaced scrutiny of operations and finance people that are often slow to embrace change at the time it is most needed. Another issue which gets in the way of profit is the continuing presence of stores in economically declining neighborhoods which by any method of measure is a losing venture.

While attacking these issues head on has caused some leadership to face negative press and support from market mavens, the only truth in it is a necessary momentum in this awful economy, or lack of.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The “Walmart greeter” is far less important today, than at the time that Mr. Sam put them in place. The greeters served a role at that time to provide familiarization to a store/channel that was still relatively new to consumers.

Today, with over 3 out of 4 consumers visiting Walmart for some type of shopping/purchasing experience in the past 90 days (BIGinsight Consumer Intentions & Actions survey), placing this associate in a more centralized position in the register area, makes perfect sense. With added grocery volume in the carts, the associate is also positioned to guide and potentially calm the harried shopper.

The human touch remains in place, serving as “Thanks for coming” appreciation, “Did you find everything you needed?” inquiry, and a “Traffic cop to help people speed through checkout line” — a priority for most shoppers.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The greeters in my limited experience of going into a Walmart were probably the nicest employees in the store, as checkout lanes are nightmares. I haven’t experienced very many smiling faces working inside the store, and for $8 hour, and constant work overloads, you will get what you pay for in terms of the help they have. But hey, they have some hot deals, and they pack ’em in every day, so I don’t see the greeter situation changing anybody’s mind on shopping there.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The old fashioned vision of the Walmart greeter at the door is definitely part of the Walmart image and tradition, however, it really never served much of a useful purpose for the consumer. The greeters seldom could answer questions beyond the most obvious ones and most consumers were trying to walk around them so that they didn’t have to talk to them. Therefore, I think in this instance, change is good!

Jerome Schindler
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
Meijer Stores based in Michigan probably had greeters before Walmart existed. I thought the Walmart greeters were mostly a security measure — I always wondered how they selected certain exiting customers to look at their register receipt to see if they had paid for what they were hauling out of the store. I suspect there is a degree of “profiling” going on there. If Walmart wants to save money, they should not install so many checkout lanes. I don’t think I have ever seen more that 1/3 of them open anyway. A week before Christmas I was in Walmart to pick up an internet order. Those waiting to get their layaways were told it would be a 45 minute wait. One lady was so mad she just cancelled her entire layaway order. Certainly redirecting the “greeter” to help retrieve layaways would have made sense. Another good use would be to make sure the prices on the shelf have been updated to match what they ring up at during checkout.
Brian Kelly
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I am sure Walmart has spent a few million on sorting this out, but here are my two-cents:
1. Greeters gave the illusion of service, and it usually showed up in surveys.
2. What is the lasting memory: greeter or checkout? I think the last thing we experience sticks. But one person at the “food-fight,” 20+ lane checkout seems like a typo.
3. I wouldn’t want to be in the way of an all-night beverage of choice imbiber, let alone my mom.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The “greeter” is an icon image associated with Walmart. When Walmart changed away from “low prices always,” consumers did not accept the upscale image and Walmart went back to “save more, live better.” When Walmart took out huge numbers of branded products consumers reacted negatively and brought many back. Eliminating the greeter is in the same category in terms of store image. Experimentation is good, but smaller experiments before changing iconic elements that are part of the consumer experience would make sense.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Well, there goes my retirement job. Actually, I’ve seen this shift happening for many moons in some Walmarts I’ve visited. Makes sense, better use of personnel today. I don’t see this as a big deal one way or the other.