AP NEWS

Walmart’s embrace of innovation bolsters shoppers, employees

May 10, 2019 GMT

There is no doubt retail is rapidly evolving and customers’ needs today are much different than just a few years ago. This is a very exciting time for us at Walmart; we are leading retail innovation by fully embracing new and innovative ways to fulfill our mission of saving customers time and money, while creating new ways to work.

In April, we announced plans to spend an estimated $265 million in Texas on store improvements and innovations this year, following an investment of $277 million in Texas stores just last year. These major investments include remodeling 54 Texas stores, 10 of them in the southeast Texas region, and rolling out new hi-tech innovations in stores across the state.

Over the last year, we introduced or expanded a long list of retail innovations in Texas Walmart stores, including customer-centered technology like Online Grocery Pickup, Grocery Delivery, Pickup Towers, Check Out with Me and custom store maps with an online assistant in the Walmart app. Simply put, Walmart is giving Texans the opportunity to choose how, when and where they shop. We will continue to look for more ways to make shopping even easier.

Alongside these direct benefits for customers, Walmart has also begun to roll out tools that aid our associates. The process to unload trucks has been largely unchanged for three decades. This year, we are starting to modernize our backrooms with a new technology called the FAST unloader. Associates take merchandise from the truck and place it onto a conveyer that organizes and prioritizes items to stock. This new process takes a fraction of the time and we’re seeing reductions in turnover in what had been a very difficult job to fill. We’re rolling out automated shelf scanners that monitor our inventory levels and help associates keep items in stock and price labels updated; we’re using autonomous floor scrubbers, which clean and scrub concrete floors in stores; and we’re using virtual reality to more effectively train associates on a variety of topics.

Walmart is using these technologies to enable its 165,000 Texas associates to do their jobs better. These pieces of technology do not replace associates, rather automating certain tasks gives associates more time to do work they find fulfilling and to interact with our customers. We consider those interactions a competitive advantage now and in the future.

In fact, innovation has led to the creation of new jobs and greater investment in associates overall. Walmart has hired and trained 35,000 Online Grocery Personal Shoppers nationwide, a job opportunity that did not exist a few years ago.

We know that when we invest in our associates and give them the tools to succeed and grow, everybody wins. Walmart has a long history of developing the next generation of leaders - 75% of our store management teams across the U.S. started as hourly associates. We’ve also taken training to the next level by building 200 in-house training academies - four of them in Greater Houston - that teach retail fundamentals as well as leadership and customer service skills. These academies give associates the training to succeed in their role and a path to the unlimited opportunities for growth with the company. In addition, we’ve added a program where associates can earn a college degree for $1 a day, plus we give store-based quarterly bonuses and benefits packages that are unrivaled in the industry.

By the end of this year, Walmart plans to add five Pickup Towers, four autonomous shelf-scanners, 25 autonomous floor scrubbers and another FAST unloader to Houston-area stores. As these innovations continue to be introduced and expanded in stores in Houston and around the state, it shows how Walmart is prioritizing convenience and value for customers, while continuing to provide an efficient and positive work environment for employees.

As a leader in retail and employment in Greater Houston and throughout the state, Walmart is paving the way to making shopping easier by embracing technology in its stores and online. We are incorporating innovative ideas to improve both the customer experience and the role of our associates to positively transform the way Texans live, work and shop.

Berkeley is a Walmart vice president and regional general manager