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Walmart greeters still greet, but duties change to help shoppers navigate stores

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POSTED February 9, 2012 9:04 p.m.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Those who greet customers at the entrance of Walmart stores nationwide are uneasy about a change in their duties.

Greeters no longer man the front doors during the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the stores, and this month they were moved deeper into the stores to help shoppers find what they're looking for and navigate the aisles.

"They'll still greet. That's still an essential part of their position," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The move inside and the new duties were implemented in the past two weeks, and no positions were eliminated, Hardie said.

Some greeters are not happy with the changes and have voiced their concerns through OUR Wal-mart, an organization funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has tried to organize bargaining units representing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. workers.

Gloria Pascale, 86, of Renton, Wash., who has worked as a greeter for 15 years, said she has to work to pay her mortgage and help support her children and grandchildren.

"I'm worried," she said. "I like greeting. With the changes, I won't be able to do that."

She said she was recently told at work that her duties would include some lifting and other activity beyond what she's physically able to do. She said she is under treatment for congenital heart failure.

Seattle resident Barbara Holland said she started as a cashier in 2000 but moved to the greeter position after she suffered an injury in 2004 and had three surgeries on her shoulders. She said she can't be on her feet for extended periods of time.

Holland said she recently stopped the theft of a $399 Xbox Kinect at her door.

Theft prevention is not a primary function of store greeters, Hardie said.

"We have asset-protection teams that are trained to monitor that. They do an excellent job," she said.

Employees won't have to take on additional duties, such as lifting, Hardie said Sunday. Company officials will still try to accommodate workers who have physical difficulties with tasks, Hardie said.

David Strasser, managing director for the retail sector for Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, a financial-services firm, said Wal-Mart's move "is definitely worth testing."

"The consumer is a funny animal and it's always unclear how they will react," he said by email. "Of course, there is some risk from possibly higher shrink (theft) or lower customer satisfaction. But it is a lot of dollars, worth seeing if the shift helps customer service and sales."

Camille Schuster, who runs retail consulting firm Global Collaborations Inc. in Escondido, Calif., said she applauds the company for experimenting but said it should have tested the move on a limited scale first.

"The greeters are a Wal-Mart fixture in the consumers' heads. Why are they doing this across the whole chain without knowing the consumers' perception? I think it's a rash move," she said.

Hardie said the company already is getting feedback from store employees on the changes. Many have said the move allows them to interact more with customers.

Richard Brown, a greeter in Tempe, Ariz., said he welcomes the changes.

"My primary feeling is the new position is going to give us a greater opportunity to help our customers feel that this is family, like I think Sam Walton originally intended," said Brown, 76, who has worked at the store for 10 months.

 

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