Will Walmart’s bring your own device policy work for it and its associates?

Photo: Walmart blog
Nov 08, 2018
Tom Ryan

Walmart has rolled out a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program that loads its suite of custom-built apps on associate’s smartphones to help them do their jobs on selling floors. Associates also receive a discount on their monthly phone bills.

In a blog entry, Brock McKeel, senior director of digital operations, said sales associates will continue to have access to Walmart’s digital network by checking out a handheld device at the back of the store. An additional “tens of thousands” of more such devices will be added to stores in coming months.

But enabling access to Walmart’s work apps through associates’ smartphones enables them to log in as soon as their shift begins.

Spencer Schmidt, a sales floor associate at a supercenter in Arkansas where the technology was tested, said as part of the blog entry, “BYOD basically works just like our store devices – I can pop it open when a customer needs help, look up items and find where they are in the store. But with my phone, the apps are always on me. As soon as I clock in, I can see what notes have been assigned to me and start working on them right away.”

With trust cited as an issue, Walmart noted that the retailer will not be able to see personal e-mails, data, photos/videos, voicemail (corporate or personal), text, web activity, list of apps or device location. Viewable information includes battery level, make and model of the device, operating system version, corporate email and data, storage usage, carrier and phone number.

Walmart’s range of apps enables associates to stay up-to-date on company and store announcements and better manage out-of-stocks, deliveries, pricing changes and returns. The apps also feature a variety of performance indicators.

A U.K. study last year by Fujitsu found many retail associates prefer using their smartphones as work tools because they are quicker and provide broader web access than outdated store-provided devices. For retailers, pros of allowing BYOD included being able to better recruit younger consumers accustomed to their always-on smartphone and potential cost savings. Cons were seen as privacy and security threats.

DISCUSSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see benefits for store associates and Walmart from the retailer’s BYOD program? What concerns, if any, do you have about the program?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"BYOD with the right guardrails can definitely work ... I’m not sure that a measly discount on the monthly bill will be enough to make it stick."

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17 Comments on "Will Walmart’s bring your own device policy work for it and its associates?"

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Mark Ryski

Getting mobile devices in the hands of associates is a smart move – however it gets accomplished. There is no perfect solution regarding mobile devices, and Walmart’s move to enable associates to use their personal device is practical. Naturally, privacy and security concerns should absolutely be taken seriously, and I have no doubt Walmart is, however, the benefit of arming associates with mobile will prove to be good for associates, good for Walmart and, ultimately and most importantly, good for the customer.

Nikki Baird
From what I’ve seen of teens, they are more than happy to use their own devices, even as store employees. However, there are a couple additional things to think about besides data security. If you’ve seen a teen’s phone lately, odds are its screen is smashed and barely usable. So even if an employee prefers to use their phone, if they pull out a phone that looks like it was run over by a car (which it might’ve been), what kind of impression does that make for customers (and I realize I’m talking about your average Walmart shopper here, but still)? The other thing that makes me uneasy is from a value exchange perspective. Walmart is saving thousands per device by letting employees use their own, and employees get — a discount on their monthly bill? The power dynamic between employer and employee is indeed still way too skewed to the employer if employees are enthusiastic about that. BYOD with the right guardrails can definitely work, and employees are using their own phones on the… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum

I have never understood why this didn’t take off years ago. It’s the right way to do it!

Rich Kizer

This Walmart BYOD is a fantastic idea. Associates are used to the utilizing their phones and most are very proficient at entering information, creating an efficient tool for both associate and customer. On the other hand, many stores have banned personal phones on the floor because of abusive personal use. If Walmart is vigilant in requesting that the use is for business only, it certainly will help the customer — if the associates take the initiative to be present and intercept the customers. Quicker service for customers, and nearly instant information flow on tasks and requests … that’s great.

Neil Saunders

It is cost effective, viewed favorably by workers, and gives staff a nice benefit of a reduction in their phone bills. Lots of things to like! A slight concern is around security, but this is an area most retailers will be conscious of. Another consideration is professionalism: retailers don’t want associates standing round using devices for personal use – but this is something that can be easily addressed through training and HR policy.

Cathy Hotka

Store associates prefer using their own devices over commercial devices that they perceive to be clunky and unintuitive. That said, customers may think that associates are goofing around on the phone instead of working. It’s a small challenge, but should be addressed.

Georganne Bender

BYOD will certainly save Walmart money by not having to buy additional devices for associate use, and I like the idea of giving store associates a break on their cell phone bills. I hope it’s generous. Giving every associate instant access to answer whatever question the customer might have will be a boost to customer service.

I do see a downside to giving associates permission to use their phones on the sales floor because it will likely result in using those phones to do more than help shoppers. Personal cell phone usage on the sales floor is already an issue in some stores, this leaves the door wide open.

Ray Riley

When you have a roster of over 2 million sales associates, how else do you reach each with consistent messaging? Sales professional empowerment is critical, and apps like these keep sales associate/professionals informed and engaged when clocked in. From having conversations daily with retailers in regard to implementing this type of technology, there’s thought required to the role these devices have throughout the shift. The last thing a retailer wants is an entire floor staff with their heads collectively buried in devices.

Al McClain

Yes, it potentially makes communications with store associates easier for Walmart. But, the quote from the store associate seems scripted from corporate, and I think we’d hear how much the phone bill discount was if they were proud of it. In this new gig economy, where the individual bears more and more responsibility for everything, I guess it is unsurprising, but large corporations should provide what their employees need in the way of communications tools. If they are not going to do that, they should discount the phone bill AND the phone purchase heavily.

Mark Price
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
1 year 7 months ago

This approach is tailor-made for a large segment of Millennials, who live on their devices all day long. By providing customer service information to store associates on their own devices, Walmart lays the foundation for a stronger customer experience. The one missing piece is the ability to check out customers from those devices. But I applaud Walmart for taking this step, and expect customers will as well.

Sterling Hawkins

This is a natural fit and it will more closely connect store associates to Walmart. Especially for the younger generation, this move will give them more ownership of the brand and the experience. As long as Walmart is subsidizing some of the cost and maintain appropriate privacy controls, I’d imagine it’s a welcome change from the majority.

Harley Feldman

BYOD means using the phone and its apps that the associate owns and is already familiar with. It also means not having two devices, the personal phone and the store device, at a time as their personal devices are typically with people all of the time. It will also save Walmart capital on purchasing store-unique devices. My only concern is any leakage of Walmart data to people outside of Walmart. I suspect that the data on the phone app is the same as is available on Walmart’s website thereby not being much of a problem.

Ricardo Belmar
From Walmart’s perspective (and any other retailer taking the same BYOD approach) there are a number of benefits: cost savings from needing fewer corporate-provided devices that will need to be constantly refreshed, higher adoption of the apps by associates, quicker time to being ready to serve on the store floor with associates not needing to pick up and set up a corporate device. Operationally and financially, this is a win for Walmart. For the associate, the benefits are new tools to make their job easier and better when serving customers using a device they already know how to operate and cost savings on their mobile bill. While this seems a bit lopsided in favor of Walmart, I’d expect a high rate of adoption. The security and privacy concerns are real and valid but I believe Walmart would address these as would any other corporate entity. That said, with a large amount of savings potential Walmart has, I hope the discount the associates are getting is significant for their service plans and a hardware discount or… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum

Certainly this is something that, with the right protection in place, will work well for the retailers. Maybe it is something that should have been done much sooner than now. We all know how much faster the younger associates will be using their own device. But how will a manager know if this employee is using the device for personal or business reasons? It is almost impossible to get a younger person to stop using it for the length of a shift. I agree with others who have questioned how sparse the company contribution will be to the phone bill. Walmart is not one to not blow their own horn if they were giving a substantial amount toward the monthly bill.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 7 months ago

Smartphones have become so pervasive that almost everyone has one, even those with very low incomes. Some associates may be happy to use their own devices, as it will help offset the cost of their monthly mobile phone service. Familiarity with their own device is another advantage of using their own phone.

While some associates may be concerned with privacy, I suspect the benefit of getting a discount on their phone bills will outweigh this concern. Another smart move by Walmart!

James Tenser

I have to wonder whether the typical Walmart employee owns a mobile device that will adequately support workplace requirements. Cracked screens aside, what about available memory to run the app? Condition of the battery good enough to maintain Wi-Fi connectivity, light the screen, and run the app continuously throughout the shift? How will recharging be handled if needed?

I foresee a support challenge for Walmart’s digital team to keep a wide variety of personal device models running smoothly. Remember we are talking about millions of users.

Just a thought: Maybe store workers should be provided instead with charging lockers where they drop off their personal devices and pick up a fully-charged company device at the beginning of each shift. Log on, and the app would run — plus search engine access, VOIP phone and text capability. Log off at the end of the shift and take your own, fully-charged device home.

Yes that’s a lot of devices to buy, but they won’t need wireless accounts because they will only connect to store Wi-Fi.

Tim Damasticus
9 months 9 days ago
What a huge mistake. Employees are now constantly on their phone talking to their friends and family. Recently I stood and waited for an employee to end her conversation on the phone so that I could ask a question concerning a possible purchase. Once she noticed me and finally came to the conclusion in her mind that I wasn’t going to go away, she said “hang on,” to her friend or family or whomever was so important that she couldn’t wait until she was off work to speak to, and said to me “yes.” Now this wasn’t a pleasant “yes,” this was a comet of disdain spoken with the tone of why in the blank are you bothering me? This is most certainly a management problem. When I go to Chick-fil-A, I’m always met with great customer service and I can’t remember a time that I’ve ever seen one of their employees using their cell phone. There are so many complaints concerning Walmart that it appears that they don’t even care about the negative comments… Read more »
"BYOD with the right guardrails can definitely work ... I’m not sure that a measly discount on the monthly bill will be enough to make it stick."

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