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A new Walmart rises

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Wal­mart has “started to invent the future of shopping again,” president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon said at the company’s annual shareholders meeting this month.

“Together, we’re building a new Walmart,” McMillon told more than 14,000 associates from the U.S. and around the world at the University of Arkansas. “We’re going to make shopping with us faster, easier and more enjoyable. We’ll do more than just save customers money, and you, our associates, will make the difference. Looking ahead, we will compete with technology but win with people. We will be people-led and tech-empowered.”

In outlining a vision for the future, he said Walmart will stay ahead of changes by providing the best prices and quality merchandise, while saving customers time and creating a fast, easy and enjoyable shopping experience. “We’re making every day easier for busy families, and we’re using new ways of working to do it.”

He pointed to various tests to empower and benefit customers, including a new trial that enables store associates to deliver products to customers in a new way to improve “last mile” delivery. Other tests include digital endless-aisle shopping in stores, automated pickup towers in stores for online orders, pickup stations in store parking lots, robotics and image analytics to scan aisles for item availability and shelf presentation, and machine learning and more advanced algorithms in pricing systems.

McMillon went on to highlight initiatives helping to drive company results by creating a better working experience as well as an improved shopping experience. They include:

• Free two-day shipping on more than 2 million items, with no membership fee.
• A discount for customers picking up online orders in stores.
• Grocery pickup in many markets around the world and delivery from stores in some.
• Jet Fresh, which delivers fresh groceries to the home in one or two days and is now available to half of the U.S. population and growing.

McMillon struck an optimistic tone about the future of work and technology, encouraging the company’s 2.3 million worldwide associates to “be lifelong learners.” While investments are being made in technology, he stressed that people remain central to Walmart’s business. “No doubt our work will be different in the future — robots, drones and algorithms will do some work that we used to have to do. Some people are afraid of what these changes will bring. I don’t think we should be. Instead, I think we should recognize that we’ll be able to learn, grow and change together. All of us at Walmart, and more broadly in business, education and government, must work together to ensure that this generation and the next are trained and ready with the skills they need to ­succeed.”

While Walmart will always be a place where associates can learn to run a store or lead a distribution center, McMillon went on to say the company is creating new roles including data scientists, machine-learning engineers and mobile app developers. “More than ever, Walmart will be a ladder of opportunity,” he said.

“This is our moment,” he commented. “Our plan to win is clear … and it’ll be you who will make the difference. But it’s always been that way. Our people make the difference. It’s your beat. You form the chorus of our song. … We’re making some beautiful music together.”

McMillon also spoke about the company’s role in serving communities. “Customers have always trusted us for our low prices, but they also want to know that the products they buy are good for their families, the planet and the people that made them,” he remarked.

He pointed to ways Walmart gives back to communities, including programs to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses — a goal that was met last year — and to source $250 billion in products that support American jobs over a 10-year period. He also highlighted projects to source more local and sustainable products and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the company’s supply chain by one gigaton by 2030, praising Walmart’s suppliers as allies in this work.

“Our world is increasingly transparent, and we’re out to earn trust,” he said. “When people shine a light on Walmart and see our decisions — the jobs we create, the activities in our supply chain — we want them to like what they see.”


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