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Virginia Postrel

The Real Reason Wal-Mart Hired All Those People

It’s a calculated risk that spending more--in aggregate and, for new full-time workers, per employee--to keep shelves accurately stocked will pay off in higher sales.

Preparing for the holiday season, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced plans to increase store staffing levels by moving 35,000 part-time workers to full-time status and another 35,000 temporary workers to part-time. The retailer says these workers will retain their new positions after the new year. (It will also add 55,000 seasonal employees.)

It's a calculated risk that spending more -- in aggregate and, for new full-time workers, per employee -- to keep shelves accurately stocked will pay off in higher sales. Wal-Mart's legendary logistics system is only as good as the items customers can actually find. As a Delaware customer told Bloomberg News reporter Renee Dudley back in March, "If it's not on the shelf, I can't buy it. You hate to see a company self-destruct, but there are other places to go."