In the latest attempt to make its store experiences more convenient, Walmart will allow shoppers to return purchases and get a refund without having to walk more than a few steps into a store. Employees called “customer hosts” will personally process shopper returns by the front doors of select brick-and-mortar stores.
Greg Foran, President and CEO of Walmart US, announced this new service at the UBS Global Consumer and Retail Conference on March 6.Foran did not specify when or in how many locations the front-of-the-store return service would become available.
Foran said that the customer hosts will be equipped with technology to manage refunds, including providing customers with cash, at the front door.
“We’re looking at associate journeys and we’re saying to ourselves, how do we in a really agile fashion take friction out, improve the experience for the customer and drop our costs?” Foran said during the event.
Walmart has been piloting the customer host position since 2016 as an evolution of its people greeter role. In addition to greeting shoppers and bidding them farewell, as people greeters have primarily done, customer hosts also must perform activities such as scanning receipts and checking shopping carts.
The decision to phase out the traditional greeter role has come under scrutiny due to its alleged bias against those with specific physical disabilities that prevent them from performing these new tasks. Greeters at nearly 1,000 stores anticipate losing their jobs by the end of April 2019.
The retail giant has made significant investments into the in-store experience, including offering curbside grocery pickupat 2,140 locations and rolling out automated pickup towers to 700 stores by the end of 2018. During the holiday season, the company rolled out a “Check Out With Me” option for associates that allowed them to process shoppers’ purchases directly from mobile devices. Additionally, Walmart is piloting an automated picking system called Alphabot that delivers orders to associates to improve their efficiency.
During the conference, Foran also noted other technologies that shoppers can expect to see in Walmart stores, such as Bossa Nova robots that identify items in-stock and needing replenishment, as well as more self-checkout options.
Even with these changes, Foran believes there is much room for improvement when it comes to store execution. “We’re about 50% of where we should be,” he said. “The reality is we’ll never get to 100% because we’ve raised the bar…I get out to the stores every single week and half the time, I am okay with it and the other half I’m grumpy.”