Business

Northern Lights: Meet the Warm-Hearted Associates of Alaska

It takes a special team to stay happy in one of the coldest, darkest places in the country.

Even at temperatures of -30 F, associates in Alaska keep customers — and each other — smiling by taking outstanding customer service to the extreme.

Braving the Elements
At -30 F, common tasks like unloading trucks become an arctic adventure. Five minutes into the job, icicles are already forming on the flushed faces of these associates.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant manager or a sales associate,” said department manager for fabrics, crafts, and stationery, Chelsea Campbell. “We all share the responsibility of getting the job done for our customers.”

Service for Those Who Serve
This February marked 30 years of service for Command Sgt. Maj. Vento Collins, customer host at Store 2722 in Fairbanks, who started at the store in September as part of his transition away from active duty. The area’s strong military presence means that many families in Fairbanks are from other places.

“They’re not used to the conditions up here,” Vento said. “So they count on us to help them prepare for life in Alaska’s interior. We’re here for them, day and night.”

Ever-ready
Automotive associate Jessie Smith helps customer Cynthia King with 150 pounds of dog food for her three large-breed dogs.

“These associates are always ready to help,” Cynthia said. “That’s why I shop here.”


“I’ve lived in Fairbanks for 75 years,” said Pat Johnson, customer (shown left), with Dominique Green, department manager, furniture. “The associates here are so helpful.”


Alaska Bush Program
Across the state, many people – especially native populations – live in areas that can't be reached by road or ferry. Many don’t have access to the internet, and even for those who do, typical online shipping services wouldn’t make it to their homes.

That’s where the Bush Program comes in, serving customers who need everyday products — or even help with Christmas shopping — in these remote areas. Store 2722 in Fairbanks, Store 2071 in Anchorage, and Store 2710 in Ketchikan all have Bush programs.

“We serve the entire state,” says Trish Stipe, Bush department sales associate in Fairbanks. “The farthest customer would probably be about 600 miles from Fairbanks on the tiny island of Little Diomede.”

The Bush team in Fairbanks can take orders by phone, fax or email. Associates pick the requested items from the floor, ring them up, package them and process them through postage. They then divide the packages into zones by ZIP code, put them on a pallet, and wrap the pallet. The U.S. Postal Service delivers the pallets by plane or boat. (Except to places like Little Diomede Island, where planes don’t go — a helicopter or boat-plane has to deliver those packages.)

“Mostly, we are shipping nonperishable items,” Trish said. “Many of the people in these areas survive by hunting, fishing, and gathering berries.”

The team takes about 10 to 20 orders by phone each day. Another 10 or so Bush customers self-shop—that is, they make their own way to the store to shop and then have the Bush team ship their items back to their homes. Store 2710 in Ketchikan offers self-shop, takes phone orders, and typically serves customers closer to its specific region of the state. Store 2071 in Anchorage processes self-shop orders only and tends to serve the whole state, like the Fairbanks store does.

The Bush team’s favorite part of the program?

“We get to shop for customers,” Trish said. “One customer calls every December and asks us to Christmas shop for his family. He tells us the ages of his children, gives us a budget, and we take care of the rest. We’ll even stuff stockings!”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.

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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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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

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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Business

Millennials Make Waves in This Episode of ‘Outside the Box’

Millennials are making waves.

They are now leaders of industry, business, media and retail. They are shaping the way we get information and goods. They can also be a bit controversial.

But whatever you think of them, you definitely can’t ignore them -- especially millennials as successful as Mic.com co-founder Chris Altchek and Natasha Case, co-founder of ice cream company Coolhaus. In Episode 4 of our podcast, Outside the Box, we sat down with them both to discuss their respective businesses, millennials and the stereotypes of that generation.

Chris, after years of taking wildly different political jobs, realized he was really passionate about finding solutions to people’s problems. So he decided to become a journalist – a job where he could come in without bias and help share the truth. Today, Chris manages a successful news site that reaches 60 million people – a lot of them millennials – a month, in an environment where he says trust in the news is at an all-time low.

Natasha, whose goal was to make architecture cool and accessible, found that mixing food and architecture did the trick. Starting with a broken-down food truck at Coachella, her business Coolhaus now sells architecture-themed ice cream at over 6,000 locations across the U.S.

As with any stereotype, it’s dangerous to lump everyone into one bucket. So what do Chris and Natasha think about the labels some have put upon their generation? Check out the episode to hear for yourself.

Listen to previous episodes and subscribe, and tell us what you think in the comments below.

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