Walmart gives associates free phones and a mobile work app

Source: Walmart
Jun 07, 2021

Walmart will give more than 740,000 of its associates free Samsung smartphones this year to support the launch of a work app that is described as “a single source for improved employee engagement and customer care.”

Walmart gives associates free phones and a mobile work app
Photo: Walmart

The Me@Walmart app, built in-house in collaboration with Samsung, employs a mix of machine learning, augmented reality, camera vision and artificial intelligence technologies. The app ”replaces several disparate systems that associates previously used throughout their work life.”

Features include:

  • Scheduling: Associates can view their shifts up to two weeks in advance, check on their upcoming paid time off and request changes to their schedule.
  • Mobile Clock In: Using geofencing technology, associates can clock in with a tap of a button once they arrive at their store. 
  • Push-to-Talk: Pushing to talk enables associates to connect with one another, “helping them work as a team to stay nimble and react to customers’ needs.” Some employees will still carry walkie talkies.
  • Ask Sam: Likened to an AI-enabled virtual assistant, the feature lets associates ask the app questions, scan items to find out where the items are and how many are in stock, and order an item for a customer online. The feature was previously available to some associates as a separate app.

“In just one week, we had more than 3 million questions for Ask Sam,” Kellie Romack, Walmart’s VP for associate experience and customer care, said in a Samsung release. “About 98 percent of those questions are answered successfully, and we’re continually adding new questions and incorporating other feedback from associates.”

In coming months, stocking associates will be able to use an augmented reality feature on the app to highlight the boxes ready to head to the selling floor instead of scanning each box individually. Testing has shown scans take a third of the time versus the previous manual process.

The Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphone, which includes accidental damage coverage (for work and personal use), is customized to create separate work and personal profiles. Walmart will not have access to personal data.

Walmart said in its blog entry, “We believe it’s the first of its kind in the retail industry.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does the Me@Walmart app appear to be a breakthrough for associate devices? Which aspects or features should prove particularly beneficial for associates and the customer experience?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"This is a move which is long overdue. If we are going to refer to staff as associates rather than employees, we need to provide them the tools, including the latest technology"
"No one can miss this point about Walmart’s employee empowerment plan. It is massive."
"I’m a fan of this move as I think it will increase the pace of innovation of the tools that associates leverage to provide an overall better experience for customers."

Join the Discussion!

20 Comments on "Walmart gives associates free phones and a mobile work app"

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Michael La Kier

The Walmart associate app is more “it’s about time” than “breakthrough.” Giving associates tools to perform and deliver better customer service is critical. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

David Naumann

Enabling associates with the right technology is extremely important and I am impressed that Walmart is taking employee technology tools seriously. According to a Salesfloor study, 72 percent of hourly retail associates are more likely to stay with a retailer if they have the right technology and resources. The tools that help associates find products or identify if there is additional inventory in the back room will be some of the most beneficial to Walmart associates.

Richard Hernandez

This gives associates more accountability and access to the company. Having every task on one handheld device saves time and makes associates more productive. My only concern would be keeping the personal data separate, but it seems like Walmart has thought of that already.

Joan Treistman

It’s not just about the app, it’s about Walmart giving its employees a 21st century device to use and keep. The software applications make the associates’ on the job experience better and no doubt it will be a morale booster. Any manager knows that staff at one point or another are saying something to the effect of “If the boss would only do X, I could do a better job.” Often we don’t know what that missing thing is. Walmart is filling in the blanks and undoubtedly will be rewarded for it, with greater employee satisfaction, productivity, effectiveness and ultimately pleasing the customer. I don’t see a downside — until every employee expects the same device. And by then Walmart should know if it’s worth that additional investment. I’m guessing it will be.

Ken Morris
One device is the right way to go. It’s about time that retailers saw the value of task management and business intelligence at the associate level. Many organizations have aimed these applications at store management but the hidden value is in notification, escalation and information retrieval at the associate — and ultimately customer – level. We need to arm the sales associates with technology that allows them more customer intimacy as well as sensing and responding to any data driven anomalies. And for the hundreds of thousands of employees who already live and breathe through their phones, training time will be slashed as well. Now if they could integrate a mobile RFID reader into the phone, that would be huge. It would boost inventory accuracy, reduce stockouts — everything retailers have been aiming for. They could (and probably already do) include robotics in the mix, which also supports one version of the truth. Just one caveat that comes to mind. If it’s truly meant to be a combo of Walmart and personal use, they will… Read more »
Jeff Sward

I’ve seen this news in a couple of places and it’s interesting that the headlines have always talked about “free phones” rather than touting the amazing digital tools that Walmart just made available. Walmart associates are now enabled on a whole new level. It’s smart, efficient and seamless. It’s great that associates get the dividend of a free phone, but the huge news here is a digitizing of the work force on a scale we haven’t seen before.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

This is a move which is long overdue in retail. If we are going to refer to staff as associates rather than employees, we need to provide them the tools, including the latest technology. In my research on associate satisfaction, beyond a fair wage, the top associate-desired attribute was “to feel they are in on things.” Now the ability to address this need is in their hands.

Gary Sankary

This is an impressive commitment to employee engagement. I believe it will pay off with improved employee retention and customer service. Kudos to Walmart for making this investment.

Jennifer Bartashus

Happier employees are more productive employees, both of which translate to better customer service and a nicer shopping experience that then drives shopper loyalty and spending. Leveraging technology to help people feel good about their job and develop new skills to grow in that job is critical to long-term success for retailers. Walmart’s move to take it a step further and also provide the hardware is an added bonus.

Suresh Chaganti

Walmart has the right to mandate the use of company-issued phones. It didn’t sound like an optional program. If it is mandatory, I think most would view it as a burden to carry an additional device, unless they make it very easy to ditch their personal plans to save money.

Number porting and getting the personal data off when an employee departs are painful, but can be streamlined.

Venky Ramesh

Oftentimes, companies are focused on providing a stellar digital experience to their customers while letting their employees deal with the ’70s green screens. That leads to the Sunday night/Monday morning syndrome where workers experience the same stellar digital experience in their personal life that the companies provide their customers, only to walk into a green screen terminal experience the morning after. The phrase itself came into being in 2010 and it’s surprising to see it’s still as relevant.

Matthew Brogie
1 year 2 months ago

I’ve hung around the back rooms of hundreds of Walmarts over the years, and have seen a lot of very forward-looking/cutting edge programs go through their respective life cycles. Many fall by the wayside while many stick for the long term; all contribute to the evolution of how retail operates, for Walmart itself as well as those that study the giant. This evolution feels incremental and a bit overdue, however I’ll refrain from being too judgy since making the move from “multi-thousand dollar hardened devices” to mainstream consumer phones to run the associates’ apps is a big step that I’m sure was not taken lightly, and as the kinks get worked out it will certainly deliver benefits around both cost and flexibility. I’m a fan of this move as I think it will increase the pace of innovation of the tools that associates leverage to provide an overall better experience for customers.

Shep Hyken

Interesting that Walmart is giving away almost three-fourths of a million phones to its associates. It’s a nice perk for the employees and a big opportunity for Samsung. They didn’t have to give away the phone. They could have just provided the app for their employees. This perk could have a number of benefits including employee/associate retention, training opportunities (through the phone), an aid for employees to know days/hours of work (especially if they move around) and much more.

Ricardo Belmar
An impressive move by Walmart to provide nearly a quarter-million Samsung devices to employees with a single, integrated app experience that greatly improves store associates’ ability to serve customers. Many news reports of this program have fixated on the free phones being given to employees and that they can use them as their personal device, but I believe the most significant news here is the app Walmart is providing that streamlines many tasks, and finally enables store associates with tools at least as good (if not better) like those available to Walmart customers. This is long overdue across retailers, not just Walmart. It appears the Ask Sam feature is already widely used and may end up having the most impact on improving the Walmart in-store experience. I’ll be curious to see how many employees adopt this device as their personal device – that implies many questions, such as personal phone number transfers, data transfers from another device, etc., so it’s interesting to see if employees will see this as a second or “work device” or… Read more »
Harley Feldman

This is a breakthrough device to bring Walmart smarts to the associate. A phone is a natural device to use by the employee, and Walmart has configured the apps to help the employee help the customer. The most beneficial apps will be push-to-talk to other employees and Ask Sam.

Ananda Chakravarty

This is an amazing step because it’s done at scale and it’s done for for effectively the top physical worldwide retailer. All of the app features are relevant and they’ve integrated pieces from several industry stalwarts who offer similar services for retailers into a single app (and device). Managing these would be the real hassle, but employee engagement is a win for Walmart that competitors will be hard pressed to duplicate. Especially interesting is the push-to-talk feature where employees can communicate with colleagues. The benefits of inter-store communications are critical. Knowing when to head to the loading dock when the truck pulls in or how to help a customer when perplexed will be productivity boosters. Great reinvestment in their employees.

Joe Skorupa

This is all about employee empowerment and will be a big win both for Walmart and its employees. 2021 will be remembered as the year of a tipping point — when retail employees became valued team members as opposed to a disposable (60 percent average turnover rate) minimum wage workforce. Some people missed this point in last week’s discussion about the Best Buy employee empowerment plan due to how the discussion questions neglected to mention the larger goals. No one can miss this point about Walmart’s employee empowerment plan. It is massive.

Brandon Rael

Empowering and enabling store associates with the right technology and capabilities is crucial to providing an outstanding customer experience. The modern digital-first customer is at times 10X ahead of the store associates. Without the access, visibility, and tools to keep up with the customer, store associates need to be empowered, and Walmart’s investments will absolutely pay dividends.

Considering that the store associates are a crucial component of the “last mile” of retail, it is imperative to invest in the training, technology, capabilities, and incentivization to allow store associates to thrive in this new digital-first shopping environment.


This is a great gesture, and I am sure well thought out by Walmart. At first blush, it seems expensive. Upon reflection of having watched associates wait for a shared device to see their schedule, clock in, review assigned tasks, read email, check orders, and enter orders for non-CAO vendors the ROI is incredibly short. Additionally, there is the elimination of capital spend on all the shared devices. Eliminating the stationary devices also will save a substantial amount of energy costs.

Since there is geofencing, the phone is controlled by some MDM software. This could lead to some concern of personal infringement. I doubt this would happen because the cost of infringement would dwarf the gains of increase in morale and productivity.

Although most associates probably are competent with an android device, hopefully Walmart offers instruction on use and security.

Mel Kleiman

The polling question asked which of these features would prove most beneficial. The answer is all of them. Depending on the associate, depending on their job, depending on the need at a specific time.

Overall, this is a win win for Walmart, the associate and the customer.

"This is a move which is long overdue. If we are going to refer to staff as associates rather than employees, we need to provide them the tools, including the latest technology"
"No one can miss this point about Walmart’s employee empowerment plan. It is massive."
"I’m a fan of this move as I think it will increase the pace of innovation of the tools that associates leverage to provide an overall better experience for customers."

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