Will associates rocking new vests help improve Walmart’s image and results?

Discussion
Photo: Walmart
Jun 07, 2019
George Anderson

Walmart is looking to upgrade its look. The retailer, which last year relaxed its dress code to let associates wear more comfortable clothing like jeans and sneakers, is replacing the blue vests worn by employees since 2014 with new ones that have a more modern feel, including trim detail and screen printing designed to be easily identified by shoppers, even in the busiest of the chain’s stores.

Most of the vests worn by associates will be neutral steel gray with a variety of different brightly colored trim accents. Self-checkout “hosts” in the chain’s supercenters will wear yellow vests with gray trim. The back of each vest and pockets will include Walmart’s “spark” graphic in the same color as the trim. The pockets themselves will be larger than in the current vests, enabling associates to carry the tools and tech required for their jobs.

All store associates will receive a new vest this year. Additional vests, which are made from recycled bottles, will also be available for associates to purchase at no more than $11. The retailer plans to introduce a greater variety of trim designs going forward with the goal of enabling associates to express their individual styles.

Relaxed dress codes and new vest designs along with a variety of initiatives including upgraded training, debt-free college degree programs and slowly increasing pay rates all appear designed to both upgrade the professionalism of its frontline workforce while improving employee relations.

Will associates rocking new vests help improve Walmart’s image and results?
Photo: Walmart

Earlier this week at Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting, the retailer was criticized in person by Sen. Bernie Sanders who put forward a resolution to raise the company’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. The resolution, which ultimately failed to pass, was part of a campaign by the Democratic Party presidential hopeful and others to get employers to raise wages for employees. Walmart’s current minimum is $11 per hour. The chain said its average hourly compensation, which includes benefits, is $17.50 per hour, according to a CNBC report.

The current federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour.  Speaking at the shareholder’s meeting, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said it was “time for Congress to put a thoughtful plan in place to increase the minimum wage.” He advocated for changes that would phase in increases and take cost-of-living factors into consideration.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the most significant challenges facing Walmart from a workforce perspective? Do you believe Walmart is addressing those challenges in a meaningful way, and how does that affect its competitiveness?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It’s good to see a retailer focusing on the associates; they are often as overlooked as the fixtures."
"New uniforms are nice, but certainly will do nothing for Walmart’s image and results. To suggest it will is either PR or pure foolishness."
"Walmart is moving in the right direction, but a little extra cash would go a long way."

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14 Comments on "Will associates rocking new vests help improve Walmart’s image and results?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Walmart is doing a lot to support and develop their workforce and with 2.2 million associates, this is no small task. Ultimately the workforce challenges in retailing are well understood: attracting and retaining great, engaged employees. When you add up all the initiatives that Walmart is implementing to support/develop their employees, you can’t help but conclude that this will give them an edge competitively. Even initiatives like new, updated uniforms make a difference.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

The most significant challenge for Walmart will be turning more of their store associates into pickers and stockers as they turn their stores into fulfillment centers going forward. Right after that, it’ll be about administering better training so that whoever isn’t a picker will be able to better care for the modern customers’ problems, like health care, fresh groceries and BOPIS issues. The uniforms are great but, as we all know, it’s what’s under them that counts.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Love the new vests. The biggest challenge, though, is the wage. I’ll seriously date myself here, but I was making $5.50 an hour over 40 years ago. Walmart is moving in the right direction, but a little extra cash would go a long way.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

New uniforms are nice, but certainly will do nothing for Walmart’s image and results. To suggest it will is either PR or pure foolishness. Mark Ryski nails what will increase Walmart’s image and results. As part of all the other things they are implementing, the new uniforms are nice. Productive on their own? NO! Nice? Yes.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Walmart is on a roll. Two things come to mind here: First, for the past five years Walmart has trained its customers to look for people in blue vests. It’s unusual to change a brand color that’s been around that long. But secondly, I’m sure the associates welcome the change. People want to look good at work and Walmart is giving them options.

It’s good to see a retailer focusing on the associates; they are often as overlooked as the fixtures.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I agree with you Georganne about Walmart training the customers to look for the blue vest. But wouldn’t it have been better if Walmart had trained the wearers of the blue vests to look for customers to assist?

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Walmart does train its associates to look for shoppers who need assistance, but it’s a big store and customer service isn’t the only task assigned. I’m not making excuses for poor service but I do think the world unfairly paints every person who works in stores with the same negative brush. Not every associate is inattentive.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Walmart’s most significant labor challenge? That’s a tough one. First, there’s the problem of actually attracting enough workers, just to stay even with normal labor force attrition, to say nothing about expansion. Then there is the problem of retention. Note to Walmart management, it’s not that I don’t think the new vests are cute, it’s just that they won’t do anything for employees or customers. You had a chance to do something here, but it involved more than piping colors. Then there is the problem of creating career paths, although their recent college tuition plan changes may help there. And finally there is the challenge of the future — trying to determine how much of their business will stay in-store, how much will move online, what percentage of store and warehouse labor will be automated and/or controlled through AI, etc. As to the second question, I think they are so busy trying to address the immediate labor force issues that they haven’t really thought through the future in any significant way. The time to be… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

The vest is not going to make any difference if the person wearing it does not smile and is not interested or able to assist the shoppers. That has been my main beef with Walmart over the years and nothing has changed. The in-store staff is simply not trained in effective customer service. A new vest is not going to change that.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

The new vests are attractive and represent a nice refresh. More important is the need to create a work environment that respects the individual while channeling the company’s core values.

Walmart’s size requires a huge recruiting machine that attracts and keeps he right talent. We’re seeing efforts along those lines with higher wages, educational support, and flexible scheduling. Retailers have always struggled with high turnover of store associates; for Walmart, that pain point is greatly magnified due to their unique size and footprint.

Walmart’s image will be enhanced by the new vests if and only if that fresh look is supplemented by continued focus on helping customers along their time in the store – from finding or returning an item to easy checkout and exit. When an associate feels good about their work place, it carries into their customer interactions.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

It’s a step in the right direction, and I like that they’re allowing for an aspect of personalization of the vests. Given the size of their workforce, engaging employees will be an enduring challenge for Walmart. Yesterday’s Washington Post article hints that Walmart’s new robotics rollout is further complicating the matter, as machines deprive some workers of tasks they found enjoyable and they learn to work alongside their new robotic colleagues.

With other retailers like REI and H&M giving their workforce meaningful benefits like annual profit sharing, discounts on public transportation, generous paid time off, and more, it will be interesting to see how Walmart proceeds. This will be a story to keep watching.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Anything we can do to improve the self image of people that work for us, by demonstrating in unique ways of how important their work is, and show appreciation for jobs well done, will lave a big and lasting effect. The vest is a great idea. Just like Home Depot whose associates hang merit badges on their vests. Ask one of those associates what it is for, and watch the pride in their explanation of their performance of service.

From a customer standpoint, is this vest important? Probably not. But to the associates self image, it can have a very positive impact. And this can create positive customer interactions, thus creating a higher perception of greater customer service.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

The new vests may make an impact on how store associates feel about their work and the image they present to customers. That’s important. More important is how Walmart trains its staff to better serve customers before they realize they need to be served. Whether it’s through technology or human interaction, rightly or wrongly, this is where Walmart’s image needs improvement. New vests alone won’t do that. It takes more investment in the people themselves that represent the brand.

Rob Gallo
BrainTrust

Labor challenges? Let’s see:

  • Low unemployment
  • Labor force participation is down
  • Average store wages are increasing (and they need to)
  • Average number of days to fill a job is at its highest point ever
  • Store turnover remains at high levels
  • Labor cost reduction/management vs. meeting employee needs for more hours and benefits
  • Tasks in the store are changing due to myriad fulfillment options (BOPIS, Delivery, Click & Collect, etc.

Every retailer needs to be hyper-focused on labor. The goal is to put the exact amount of labor precisely where it is needed in order to maximize profitable, positive customer experiences. Getting anywhere near the efficient frontier is a huge challenge. Walmart, Target and Amazon seem to recognize this and are taking steps to tackle these challenges.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It’s good to see a retailer focusing on the associates; they are often as overlooked as the fixtures."
"New uniforms are nice, but certainly will do nothing for Walmart’s image and results. To suggest it will is either PR or pure foolishness."
"Walmart is moving in the right direction, but a little extra cash would go a long way."

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