Human cashiers are returning to Wal-Mart

Long checkout lines are one of the retailer's biggest customer complaints. It's now dedicating more employees to the problem.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 18, 2014 1:33PM
Credit: © Jim West/Alamy

Caption: An employee staffs a checkout lane at a Walmart storeBy Shelly Banjo, The Wall Street Journal

In an attempt to lure more customers this holiday season, Wal-Mart (WMT) is promising to staff each of its cash register from the day after Thanksgiving through the days just before Christmas during peak shopping times.

The move, called the "checkout promise," is aimed at addressing one of the retailer's biggest customer complaints: long waits in checkout lines, which can cause even more frustration when positions aren't fully staffed. The pledge will cover hours typically on weekend afternoons but which can vary by store.

"We feel good about price and having the top gifts of the season, so the next priority is about getting customers in and out of the stores quickly," Duncan Mac Naughton, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer, said in an interview. "Taking the possibility of waiting in long lines off the table will attract more people into stores."

The move comes as the world's largest retailer has struggled to win back shoppers after seven straight quarters of falling traffic in the U.S.

Many customers have ditched the chain's giant superstores in favor of quicker trips to smaller nearby rivals. Wal-Mart, in part due to that shift, hasn't posted an increase in sales at its U.S. stores open at least a year since 2012.

Wal-Mart has said that time and convenience continue to be important to its shoppers, and it is aggressively building smaller format stores.

While same-store sales were flat across Wal-Mart's U.S. stores in the quarter ended July 31, the figure increased by 5.6% at its smaller-format grocery stores, called Neighborhood Markets.

The company also has struggled this year with complaints about too many out of stock items and empty shelves. Executives have said that refilling shelves alone could bring back $3 billion in sales.

Now, as Wal-Mart attempts to attract customers in the months leading up to the important and highly promotional holiday season, it said it is drilling down to make sure its store operations run more smoothly.

Wal-Mart said its supercenters typically have about 30 traditional checkout lanes -- giving it more than 100,000 across the U.S. -- but the number that are staffed varies throughout the day.

The company and other retailers have made aggressive use of technology to cut back on labor costs and more precisely schedule checkout lanes based on real-time demand. But the drop in traffic and customer complaints have forced them to reassess the economics of that approach.

On Thursday the retail giant said it allocated more hours to the front end of the store, to overnight stocking, and to deli and bakery to improve customer service during the most recent quarter. Over the past two years, Wal-Mart said it has increased weekly hours for full-time workers from an average of 35 hours to 38 hours and from 25 hours to 28 hours for part-time workers. Wal-Mart spent $200 million more on salaries and wages in the quarter ended July 31 than in the same period a year earlier.

"We must run stronger stores everywhere we operate, with better merchandising, in stock levels and quality service," Chief Executive Doug McMillon told investors Thursday.

Critics say Wal-Mart's plans to boost staffing and wages don't go far enough. "If Wal-Mart truly invested in us and raised wages, we'd not only be able to make ends meet, it would boost sales and the economy," said Ronee Hinton, a Wal-Mart worker and member of OUR Walmart, a worker-advocacy group affiliated with and partly funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Kantar Retail analyst Leon Nicholas said promising to staff checkouts is a "feather in their cap, a checkmark in the retail execution box, but it doesn't move holiday traffic like having the right assortment and the right quantities so that people aren't showing up to the store and finding the shelves empty."

Wal-Mart discovered after increasing the number of self-checkout systems across its more than 4,000 U.S. stores that longer lines began forming at its staffed checkouts to deal with customers with more complicated and time-consuming transactions, such as shoppers who used coupons and price matching.

The company also recently nixed a pilot program called "Scan & Go," which ran at 200 stores and allowed shoppers to use their mobile phones to scan items as they walked through stores and pay at self-service kiosks, skipping the cashiers' lines. Wal-Mart said the process was too complicated for customers.

More from The Wall Street Journal
Tags: WMT
Aug 18, 2014 2:10PM
30 check out lanes and usually only 2 open
Aug 18, 2014 1:52PM
I had shopped at Wal-Mart for several years but have quit because of their depending on self-checkout rather than real live cashiers.  I will not be back.  We have other more pleasant places to shop and at similar prices.  Some Wal-Mart prices are actually higher.
Aug 18, 2014 2:11PM
I live in a college town.  This past weekend, we had about 15,000 students moving in.  At our local Wal-Mart, they normally have 8 cashiers on duty on any given weekend.  This past weekend, they had 9.  Whoopee!!  Not to mention the entire paper section - toilet tissue and paper towels - were completely bare.  They know that at about the same time every year the students come back.  There are schedules released in the local papers showing the public & private schools as well as the university dates.  How hard can it be to plan for it when you know EXACTLY when to have the staff and stock to serve your customers.
Aug 18, 2014 2:06PM

I like the 20 or less item lanes with people with a cart full of items and the cashier says she has to take them! BS Turn them away and maybe they will respect the signs, but oh no can't lose a customer. The hell with the rest of us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Aug 18, 2014 2:23PM

48 checkout lanes..

1 or 2 open...

with lines around the corner...

worst shopping experience ever every time I enter the sh*thole..


Aug 18, 2014 2:55PM
40 checkout lanes and only 2 or 3 open. Kind of like cable TV, 300 channels and yet nothing worth a damn on!!. That's why I gave up both (Wal Mart and cable TV). Two great decisions on my part.
Aug 18, 2014 1:52PM
The last time I went there it was a disaster. You never really know what the price will be on an item until you check out. Total disarray - tags on shelves didn't match items, etc. I got the last head of Welcome to the 3rd world, GhettoMart.
Aug 18, 2014 3:04PM
My son is a "part-time" worker at Wal-mart and consistently works more hours than the full-time staff.  He normally works 36 hours per week compared to the limit of 35 hours for someone who is full-time.  That means he gets no benefits and full-time workers get no overtime.  It's a win-win for Wal-mart.....not so much for it's employees.
Aug 18, 2014 1:47PM
Well this will be the only thing I like about Walmart.  I refuse to use self-check lines at the grocery store.  It takes a job away from someone.
Aug 18, 2014 2:34PM
You know Santa doesn't come if you are only good one month out of the year. 
Aug 18, 2014 2:46PM
Most of the clerks I met are not stupid nor lazy. Many are working another full time job and most are under paid and under trained by the store. One of the things that tells me a lot about people's character is how they go to a store to put someone down. They must really need to feel good about themselves.  In fact, quite a few of people in retail have degrees, do the customers?  People need to buy some class.
Aug 18, 2014 2:54PM
More checkout cashiers doesn't change the fact that wallmart is no longer cheaper than many of its competitors. Be sure to check the amount of product in the packaging, a walmart scam is to charge less but you get less product in packaging that resembles the one with more product sold by their competitors.
Aug 18, 2014 1:52PM

Its too late for me, I grew tired of the garbage when they got rid of the cashiers when they installed the machines in the first place,

I will not be lured back to the store in a bribe attempt like this one, Keep your stuff walmart. sell it to some one else.

Aug 18, 2014 2:14PM
I don't care how many lanes are open or who mans the cash wrap stand, I won't step foot inside that crappy store.
Aug 18, 2014 3:40PM
Great, now every trip to Wal-Mart won't require a 10-minute wait in the checkout aisles!!...... oh wait, this is only for one month.

"The move, called the 'checkout promise,' is aimed at addressing one of the retailer's biggest customer complaints: long waits in checkout lines, which can cause even more frustration when positions aren't fully staffed."

I'm confused - do they really think this complaint applies only to the holiday season, and not to every damn trip one takes to that place?
Aug 18, 2014 2:37PM
Quantity does not equal quality. I'll stick with Target and Kohl's.
Aug 18, 2014 2:02PM
Its about time Wal-Mart began concentrating more on the "middle" line than the "bottom" line.  When you take care of the "middle" line, the bottom line will take care of itself.  If Wal-Mart is really as conscientious of gaining and retaining customers, it needs to concentrate more on customers than "margins of profit".  When they lose an angry, frustrated shopper, it is hard to win them back.  It appears they have finally "seen the light" and are making changes to get back to their original mission.  I hope it is not to late for them -- they do have a world-class concept with their superstores and a lot of people like shopping there if they can get reasonable service and merchandise.
Aug 18, 2014 1:45PM
It won't make any difference if none of their check out lanes aren't open.
Aug 18, 2014 2:28PM
Well the stupid customers cause the majority of the delays in lines.  Have you stood behind someone who badgers the cashier, who can't figure out how to work a credit card machine, who's paying in pennies, etc.  I have and they're the cause most of the time for the long lines!
Aug 18, 2014 1:57PM
WOW!!!  I may have to get off of welfare and apply for one of theses spots!
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