Business

Providing Quality Health Benefits for Our Associates

In the U.S., the 1.3 million people who work at our stores, clubs and distribution centers are vital to a great experience for the 140 million customers shopping with us each week. We’re in business because our associates bring us their unique skills and talents – and so we do our absolute best to offer all the benefits that come with a great job, particularly affordable health insurance.

Anyone who has been following the news for the last several years knows that health care is a major topic of debate. From doctors’ visits and prescriptions to insurance premiums, health care costs have increased for all of us – individuals and the companies that insure them – each year. Knowing this, Walmart continues to work with health care providers and professionals, using our size and influence to negotiate the best rates and options for our associates.

Like every company, Walmart continues to face rising health care costs. This year, the expenses were significant and led us to make some tough decisions as we begin our annual enrollment. As a result, today we announced that our associates will see an increase in premiums for 2015. For example, our most popular and lowest cost associate-only plan will increase by $3.50 to $21.90 per pay period – still half the average premium other retail employees pay.


We’re also changing eligibility for some part-time associates. We will continue to provide affordable health care to all eligible associates, including part-time, who work more than 30 hours. However, similar to other retailers like Target, Home Depot, Walgreens and Trader Joe’s, we will no longer be providing health benefits to part-time associates who work less than 30 hours. This will impact about 2% of our total U.S. workforce.  We will be working with a specialist, HealthCompare, to personally guide our associates through the process of finding the right, affordable health care.

We are proud of the health care plans we offer, which are among the best in the retail industry, as well as the new benefits we’ve introduced over the past two years for our associates. This includes a vision plan that launched this year and our innovative Centers of Excellence program that began in 2013 that covers select spine and heart procedures at no cost to our associates. We expanded Centers of Excellence this year to include knee and hip replacement surgeries and, for 2015, we’re excited to be adding breast, lung and colorectal cancer care at the Mayo Clinic.

We don’t make these decisions lightly, and the fact remains that our plans exceed those of our peers in the retail industry. Our premiums remain well below the industry average compiled by expert Aon Hewitt.  We also continue to pay the majority of health care costs for associates covered under our medical plans. For example, on average we cover more than 60% of our associates’ total health care costs and more than 75% of their premium costs. In contrast, the retail industry pays, on average, about 54% of total health care costs and 68% of employee premiums.

All of our eligible associates – both full and part-time – will continue to benefit from our health care options that include no lifetime maximum, preventative care covered at 100%, and $250 up to $1,000 to help pay for medical expenses. We believe these options are among the best in the retail industry.

As our associates continue to work hard for our customers, we will continue working hard to keep their benefits as affordable as possible, enhance the quality of health care they receive and make the cost more transparent, which will benefit everyone.

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U.S. Manufacturing

The Backyard Invention That Held on Through it All

When I was a kid, I saw a museum exhibit on Thomas Edison’s workshop. For some reason, I felt an immediate connection to this American inventor.

I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, but I also spend most of my free time tinkering and designing in my garage. Ever since that day at the museum, I’ve been inspired to recreate what I saw there – imagination, innovation and ingenuity – in my own work.

Most of my best ideas come to me when I run into a problem and can’t stop thinking about it until I create a solution. One-Ties are a reusable rubber zip-tie I invented after I was doing some painting on the house and my power painter cord came unplugged so many times I must have gone up and down the ladder every five minutes to plug it back in. I thought to myself, “there’s got to be a solution for this.” It turns out there was – and it was a solution for a bazillion other things, too.

When my business partners Erik Chmelar, Jason DeYoung and I decided to get serious about selling One-Ties to the public, I was adamant from the very beginning about manufacturing our product in the U.S. Anything else was a deal breaker. I’m what you might call a patriotic person. I believe the greatness of our country lies in the potential of the great people who live here. If we were going to be creating jobs in making this idea come to life, I wanted to share that opportunity with other Americans. That’s why today, One-Ties are manufactured in Elroy, Wisconsin.

If I could give one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs, I would share the famous words of Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.” I first invented One-Ties to use around my own house. I never imagined they would be sold at the world’s biggest retailer.

I feel truly blessed, and to have my invention recognized at Walmart’s Open Call this past June was an amazing reward I never expected. Prior to Open Call, we began thinking about licensing our concept to Tailor Made Products, the company we charged with manufacturing it from the beginning. After Open Call, we did just that. They’re a company that has been making products for sale at Walmart for 20 years, so giving them this opportunity was a move that made sense for all of us.

Creating something other people love to use is the best part of being an innovator, and I’ll never stop.

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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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Innovation

Your Delivery Has Arrived…With All Your Walmart Goodies

Your daily grind starts at 6 a.m. with a mad dash around the house as you ready the family for work and school.

Showers are taken, cereal is poured, and three different lunches, each one accounting for allergies and pickiness, are lovingly prepared and packed.

Meeting after meeting followed by countless conference calls dominate the day. When it’s all over, it’s time to arrange rides for the kids – sports, band practice and drama club are tonight. Anxiety sets in…what in the world are we going to have for dinner? Are there even groceries in the house?

As you prepare for another chaotic day tomorrow, I hope you’ll feel confident knowing that we’re all about finding new ways for you to check “grocery shopping” off your list a little faster – including making home delivery an option.

Last year, we began testing grocery delivery through crowd-sourced services like Uber. Here’s what we’ve learned: customers like you love the convenience of a delivery option.

So, we’re expanding our grocery delivery pilot to two more markets – Orlando and Dallas.

Here’s how it works:

  • To order, customers shop online or through a mobile browser at Walmart.com/grocery to build an online basket and place an order, selecting the most convenient time for the order to be delivered.
  • That’s when our personal shoppers get to work. Based on the delivery time, they’ll begin picking items, scanning them as they go to ensure an accurate and complete order.
  • Then, our team will request an Uber delivery partner to come to the store, pick up the customer’s order, and take it directly to the customer’s location.

We’ve been testing delivery in a number of ways for a while now in key markets across the country. In some areas, we’re trying general merchandise deliveries led by associates. In others, we’re testing grocery delivery using Walmart trucks and drivers. We’re working hard to find a way to get you fresh, quality groceries all while keeping a little more time on your calendar.

Tomorrow is going to look a lot like today - lots to do and not enough time to get it done. But hopefully, this expanded offering, and more like it, will speed up the shopping experience and give you back something just as precious as money – time.

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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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