Walmart says ‘goodbye’ to greeters and ‘hello’ to controversy

Photo: Walmart
Feb 27, 2019
George Anderson

Walmart is eliminating the position of greeter at more than 1,000 stores and replacing it with customer hosts whose responsibilities will include added tasks such as making cart runs, cleaning up spills and being able to lift items that weigh up to 25 pounds. While employing people who can interact with customers and accomplish other tasks seems like a positive for Walmart, there is concern that the change will leave older workers and those with disabilities without jobs.

NPR reports that it has spoken with Walmart greeters in five states who expect to lose their jobs after April 25. One greeter, John Combs, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, said he was told that his job is being eliminated.

In Marion, NC, thousands of customers at the Walmart there started a petition to save the job of Jay Melton, another wheelchair bound greeter who suffers from cerebral palsy, reports WYFF News 4. Mr. Melton has worked at Walmart for 17 years. 

In response to reports, Walmart said it would extend its deadline for workers with disabilities to find other jobs and that it would “explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store. This allows associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all of those involved.”

This is not the first time that Walmart has gained attention for tinkering with its greeter position. In 2012, the retailer announced that it was moving greeters away from the store lobby and closer to cash registers where they could better assist shoppers. The chain also eliminated greeters from its late-night shifts at 24-hour stores.

In 2016, Walmart announced that it would move greeters back to the lobbies in about two-thirds of its locations after a pilot conducted by the chain found that having them present made customers feel more welcomed as they entered stores. At the same time, Walmart also announced that it was adding the new position of customer host to both greet people entering stores, but also to deter thieves from walking out with stolen merchandise.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Walmart’s decision to extend the deadline for some greeters to find other jobs before their positions are eliminated be enough to address the controversy of putting disabled and elderly employees out of work?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"No doubt this was a difficult decision for Walmart management to make."
"This is a public relations gaffe and a short-sighted money saver on the part of Walmart."
"The greeter is as much a part of Walmart as the happy face ... I think more shoppers will speak up..."

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20 Comments on "Walmart says ‘goodbye’ to greeters and ‘hello’ to controversy"

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Mark Ryski

This is an unfortunate outcome for the employees who will be affected by the decision – and not great PR for Walmart. However, the decision to modify the requirements for this position to provide additional services to shoppers is a reasonable one. No doubt this was a difficult decision for Walmart management to make.

Tom Dougherty

Shoppers do not chose Walmart because the company is a good citizen.

People shop Walmart because they believe prices are cheaper.

Walmart will survive these ruthless changes because in truth, nobody cares. There. I’ve said it.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Tom said it – customers will get over it, but it will be a shame – one of the last pieces of a civilized shopping experience at Walmart.

Mel Kleiman
10 months 23 days ago

It makes good business sense to change the job description based on a number of factors:

  1. The raise in hourly wages for front-line employees;
  2. The changing role of the greeter in the store especially with store pickup;
  3. The way Walmart has created a more responsive customer service model with the use of technology. (example hand held checkout stations.

On the other side of the coin. Walmart has been a good corporate citizen by the employment of a number of people who in many cases would not be able to find work.

But I think they handled it wrong. They could have created guidelines for stores to follow that would have given them some leeway when it came to evaluating greeters with specific challenges and look at making accommodations.

Ray Riley

I agree Mel; In hindsight I’m sure it’s clear now there was probably a smoother way to signal a transition.

Georganne Bender

This is a big story in Chicago as a disabled greeter who has held the position of Walmart greeter for 19 years will lose his job in April.

It’s a tough one because the greeter position has traditionally been held by elderly and disabled persons and some of these people are not physically capable of performing some of the new job requirements. Walmart has said that it is looking for customized solutions for all of those involved but that remains to be seen.

Still, I wonder what Mr. Sam would have to say about this situation.

Frank Riso

I do not think so. The greeter is as much a part of Walmart as the happy face. The position is one that disabled and elderly people can do well but finding another position is normally not an option. I think more shoppers will speak up and this will be another oops on the part of Walmart. Keep the greeters and keep the folks that do the other roles as well.

Rich Kizer

I think Sam is rolling over at high velocity. Sure, the greeters probably do not add substantially to sales, but they did do something that I think we forget about. First of all, it’s the loss of an icon. Secondly, it is just their appearance to welcome shoppers (albeit, perhaps not the most professional at times) to the store. In our surveys of customers, one of the high agitations of shopping is not being recognized or welcomed in a timely manner. Sam understood that. At some point in all businesses, there must be small margin sacrifices to magnify the heart, goodness and appreciation of the customer. It’s a shame, but it will melt away, and customers will use this as another example of “remember the good old days when…”. I think Walmart has other, major fish they can fry to enhance the bottom line.

Michael Decker
Michael Decker
Vice President, Marketing Strategy
10 months 23 days ago

This is a public relations gaffe and a short-sighted money saver on the part of Walmart. Retailers need to continue to differentiate the in-store human experience from the online efficient one. The greeter position served double duty in providing warmth to a decidedly sterile big box AND productive jobs to a vulnerable sector of our workforce — the handicapped. The world’s largest retailer must continue to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and favor long-term brand strategies over short-term cost savings. If making more money is the only driver, the goodwill pays back anyway. This just demonstrates a deficit of good leadership.

Dick Seesel

What is the cost of maintaining the greeter position compared to the cost of abandoning it? Whether or not this change was motivated by cost savings, it is a branding mistake on Walmart’s part.

Ed Rosenbaum

Tom said customers will get over it. Yes, they will because the prices say they will. But the negative PR is going to be difficult for Walmart to combat. Yes, it might be a mistake. But mistakes happen and we move on. I feel sadness for those affected who need the job, not only for the meager monies they are paid but for the opportunity to feel important.

Jasmine Glasheen

Look, I’m going to be honest here and say that I don’t like being aggressively greeted upon entering a store, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way.

Shoppers’ expectations are evolving— paying employees a decent living wage is more of a priority than aggressively greeting shoppers upon store entry.

I’m glad to see that Walmart is working to reposition each employee within the company whenever possible. Bottom line: It’s just not fair to expect Walmart to hold onto the position of greeter when it’s no longer relevant to avoid inconveniencing a few employees.

Ricardo Belmar

Not the best way to humanize your shopping experience! Sure, there are many business reasons for Walmart to change the role of the greeter to something else given how they are changing their in-store experience overall, but they certainly mishandled this from a PR perspective. For many, the greeter added a needed personal touch to the experience at shopping at what most see as a giant, almost warehouse-like, shopping experience. Perhaps Walmart should have looked at how Costco handles greeting and exiting their stores.

Paco Underhill

The concept of the greeter in big boxes was rooted in loss prevention. Shoplifting comes in three forms. First is the pro who walks in the store with the intention of stealing. Second is the employee who finds a way to slip something out the side, or back door. The third is the person who gets tempted in the store to slip something in their pocket. Walmart figured out that if you are greeted at the doorway by a senior, or handicapped person, you are recognized and thus are much less likely to steal. in 2019, maybe the math has changed….

Larry Corda

Sad. Sam would be very disappointed. It was a small price to pay for good PR. I felt the greeter was the ONLY thing that gave Walmart heart and made them a better corporate citizen for doing so. That being said, we should be thankful that they employed so many disabled and elderly over the years. No other retailer can claim to have hired as many disabled and elderly as Walmart has. I would’ve like to see Walmart keep these people employed until they retired/quit and then replace them with the new customer host position or phase the greeter position out over a number of years, lets say 3 or 5 years in order to give them ample time to prepare for this change.

Kai Clarke

This is contrary to one of the core beliefs of Sam Walton, and how he wanted his stores to be presented to his customers, and I have met Sam Walton. He would be turning over in his grave that this decision was impacting employees as well, as the initial presentation of the store to the consumer as soon as they entered. Walmart management has clearly forgotten this core belief and how this has helped make Walmart the retail giant it is today. Shame on them!

Craig Sundstrom

Find other jobs? Yeah, right. Whether one feels this was a happy circumstance of people with limited ability finding something truly useful to do, or just outright charity, I can’t imagine too many are going to give the thumbs up.

And the rationale itself seems dumb: the point of a greeter is to be there to … well, greet. Having them roaming the parking lots or hefting boxes defeats the point of the position.

I won’t give an “F” because they haven’t had a chance to present a defense, but really….

Tony Orlando

Walmart, in my humble opinion, is going to do whatever it takes to enhance the bottom line, and the greeters will be another bump in the road, which in 6 months will be old news. I know how my vendors feel serving them, and it is not pretty, but hey, either follow their demands, or you are gone.

If you like a greeter, go find any independent retailer, and for the most part you will be treated well. And the owner will certainly appreciate your business, as many of them are struggling. So do you want ultra cheap, or an engaging store owner who will take care of you, for perhaps slighter higher prices on the staple goods?

Unfortunately I’m betting Walmart will win almost every time, especially in rural towns. They shut down 9 supermarkets in our county, after adding on a super-center, and I have no love for them whatsoever.

Alex Levashov

Not sure is it a good move, looks like short-term savings, damaging the brand. If you want just the lowest prices vs decent quality, you can go to Aldi.

Fredrik Carlegren

This is a fascinating example of a retailer making a change that challenges its brand authenticity — real or perceived. Is this greeter position really authentic, but challenged due to an even stronger financial pressure (i.e. Walmart is changing its authentic self)? Or, was it always a philanthropic gesture that wasn’t genuinely true to the Walmart brand? I’ll let you judge which is more true. Or, maybe both are true.

"No doubt this was a difficult decision for Walmart management to make."
"This is a public relations gaffe and a short-sighted money saver on the part of Walmart."
"The greeter is as much a part of Walmart as the happy face ... I think more shoppers will speak up..."

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