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Wal-Mart Breaks Tradition by Changing Role of Its Greeters

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) will begin moving greeters into its stores from the lobbies, ending a long tradition of having customers see employees as soon as they enter the building.

The greeters will be moved near the cash registers to direct shoppers to products or shorter checkout lines, David Tovar, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company, said today in an interview.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has used greeters since 1980, when founder Sam Walton decided they would make his low-price stores friendly and welcoming. The move shows that Wal-Mart is rethinking many longstanding practices as it tries to boost profit margins and same-store sales.

During the past six months, Wal-Mart reassigned greeters at its 3,000 U.S. supercenters from the third shift, which runs from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The company has been looking for ways to increase productivity and save money to protect margins and keep prices on its products low.

Greeters at different stores have been told for the past two days that they will be reassigned, said Janna Pea, a campaign specialist with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which assists a group of employees called Organization United for Respect at Walmart.

Inside the Store

Jerome Allen, a greeter at a Wal-Mart in Fort Worth, Texas, said he was told by store management about midday on Jan. 26 that he would be moved inside the store in February. He will be asked to direct customers around the store instead of greeting them up front.

“They said we won’t be people greeters anymore,” Allen said in a phone interview. “We will be in the store helping people.”

Allen, who is a member of Organization United for Respect at Walmart, said the company can cut costs by giving greeters more work inside the stores. At his location, Wal-Mart has been reducing hours of some associates. By sending greeters into the stores, they can do some work formerly done my other employees and save wages, he said.

“I’m going to be doing part of the associates’ work,” Allen said. “They have been cutting hours left and right.”

Tovar said Wal-Mart is making the move to improve customer service. The employees still will be able to greet customers. They also can help people find products and direct them to an open register or a shorter line, he said.

“It’s a better position inside the store,” Tovar said. “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.”

Allen said greeters may be doing less greeting. He said he was told he will be in high-traffic areas like electronics, which is located far from the main door.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Welch in Detroit at dwelch12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at rajello@bloomberg.net

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