Door greeter role revived by giant retailer

Trial shows reduction in theft and improved customer service.

Wal-Mart Stores will deploy employees to all its entrances and exits in a move to deter shoplifters and improve customer service, reviving a door-greeter program that had languished in recent years.

Last week the company said that greeters will return to Wal-Mart’s US superstores in multiple forms. At two-thirds of locations, a standard greeter will be stationed at the entrance. Many of these stores had relocated the workers to other areas, such as the main shopping aisle.

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The remaining stores, which the company has identified as having more theft, will get an employee focused on preventing shoplifting who will periodically check receipts. These workers, called customer hosts, will need to have additional skills beyond those of traditional greeters, who are often senior citizens. They’ll need to be able to ask for receipts when appropriate and lift heavy objects and use technology to process express returns.

The customer hosts also may have to deal with encounters that could turn hostile. They will be designated with a bright yellow vest and a radio.

Wal-Mart began testing a program last year to see how effective it would be to add more staff at the door with positive results. At two stores in Arlington, Texas, having employees check receipts helped reduce calls to police by about 40% over six months, Arlington assistant chief of the police Kevin Kolbye told global media. Wal-Mart also put in place eye-level security monitors and other theft-prevention technology, and a program for first-time offenders so they don’t have to be arrested, he said.

The changes were announced to employees on Wednesday and will be rolled out over the summer, the company said. Wal-Mart will also create a new position to have an employee oversee the self-checkouts, an area prone to theft.

Theft has been an increasing problem for Wal-Mart, with the company saying it contributed to lower earnings last year. At some stores, police are called four times a day to arrest shoplifters stealing everything from a US$2 pack of gum to a cart full of televisions. While Wal-Mart doesn’t reveal how much merchandise disappears from its stores, retailers typically lose 1.4% of their sales to theft and administrative errors, according to the US National Retail Federation.

In a back to the future move, the role of store greeter was a hallmark of Wal-Mart under founder Sam Walton, who believed having a friendly face at the door could give a neighborhood feel to the company’s massive supercenters.

Wal-Mart said it expects to fill the new staffing with existing employees, so headcount probably won’t go up. The company raised worker pay to at least US$10 an hour earlier this year, increasing its labor costs.

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