Why the (Smiley) Face? A Chat with Walmart’s CMO

Earlier today at Walmart’s U.S. Associates meeting – part of the company’s Shareholders week events – Chief Operating Officer Judith McKenna revealed the return of a familiar face: Smiley. For more on this topic, we sat down with Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers.

Just as the smiley face has long been a symbol of happiness, Walmart has long been known for low prices. Reuniting the two makes sense – but why now?

You’ve heard us talk a lot recently about the importance of leading on price. Low prices have always been our key differentiator and we have an unwavering commitment to providing our customers with low prices every day. As we were thinking through how to communicate our low prices to customers, we felt like it was time to bring back an old friend, and one of the most-recognized symbols of low prices … Smiley.

We first introduced Smiley in 1990 and, since then, he has been a widely recognized symbol for low prices. In fact, nearly 70% of our customers still associate Smiley with savings at Walmart even though he’s been behind the scenes for the past decade.

Walmart’s latest ads featuring Smiley show him popping in with a great price as everyday dilemmas are solved in a pinch. What does Smiley mean for customers?

Quite simply, when Smiley is on the screen, our customers know that he is helping them get great prices.

Back in the day, Smiley was the face of rollbacks. Today, he represents all low prices.  Whether we’re talking about a great everyday low prices or a new rollback, Smiley’s our man. 

How have associates responded?

Our associates love Smiley.  They share a larger purpose – advocating for our customers. For Smiley, it’s about delivering low prices.  For our associates, it’s about great customer service. 

A few weeks ago, I was visiting stores and asked a few associates what they thought about Smiley’s return. I was blown away by how passionate they were.  They’re really excited about how he’s been integrated into the “Happy to Help” program which is about recognizing our associates for the ways they serve customers. And, they can’t wait to see him bopping around the screen lowering prices again.

Tell us honestly: Emojis are becoming a big part of our conversational culture. Do you think of Smiley as the first emoji?

In our eyes, he’s simply the champion for low prices at Walmart.

Bringing Smiley back into Walmart’s advertising feels nostalgic. What do you think Smiley represents in terms of today’s Walmart?

As retail evolves, there are elements that are timeless. Today, as much as ever, our customers need us as their advocate for low prices. Smiley represents that commitment.  

Take a look at a timeline of Smiley's life.

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Blue Star Families Helps Unsung Heroes: Military Spouses

When I said, “I do” under a bower of roses to my husband, resplendent in his Marine Corps dress blues, I had no idea that the years ahead would bring the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the long war, many combat deployments and many moves.

I love my husband and found extraordinary meaning in helping to serve my country. Along the way, I also found that the costs can be very high.

Like many military spouses, I moved. I moved and moved again. I’ve lost careers that I cared about – and was good at. These jobs helped support my family while resettling my children and maintaining a home for my husband as he retrained and left again. It’s a lonely place to be. But I wasn’t alone.

Many military spouses deal with additional obstacles like putting the needs of the military above their own career goals. These obstacles can make full-time employment nearly impossible. That’s one of the reasons why a group of military spouses (including myself) got together in 2009 to create Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit dedicated to empowering military families. We want our families to thrive by providing them resources, support and connections to their civilian communities.

According to Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, most military spouses are not working. More than 75% of military spouses surveyed say that being a military spouse has hurt their career, and more than half of those not employed are actively seeking work. Of the minority of spouses who do work consistently, most earn less than $20,000 a year.

This kind of financial instability hurts military families. We know that dual income military families are able to better participate in their local communities and thrive while they serve. But, unlike their civilian counterparts, most military families face more hardships and uncertainties, because they volunteered to serve.

This is why Blue Star Families applauds Walmart for their new initiative to tackle this challenge affecting our military and their families. Walmart is rolling out their Military Spouse Career Connection. Beginning November 12, 2018, military spouses who apply for a job with Walmart or Sam’s Club will be given preferential hiring status.

Military spouses move so frequently that delays in hiring can mean they are not able to work at all during a duty station. Walmart and Sam’s Club can be a particularly good career path for military spouses, because there’s almost certainly a Walmart store anywhere the military sends families in the United States.

Blue Star Families is also working to solve the problem of military spouse unemployment. One of our major initiatives in this area is Spouseforce, an interactive platform for career-minded military spouses. It works in some ways like a dating app--both employer and employee can identify a possibly compatible match before making any contact.

It’s my hope that our combined efforts will help military families become more financially independent, and that spouses will have greater access to fulfilling, meaningful careers they can take with them wherever the military sends them.

I invite you to learn more about Blue Star Families and join us as a Blue Star Neighbor to show you’re a supporter of military families. When you stand with us, you help us create more opportunities for military families in your neighborhood, across the country and around the world.



When Man and Machine Meet in Retail, Customers Win

Becky King used to find shopping with her young sons time-consuming and stressful. Then she discovered what she calls a game changer: the Walmart Grocery app.

The Rogers, Ark., resident uses the free Grocery app to fill a digital shopping cart throughout the week and submits an order when she’s ready. While King watches her children play in the park, a trained personal shopper at her local Walmart assembles her order using A.I.-infused technology to ensure accuracy, efficiency and quality. King swings by Walmart on her way home, and a personal shopper loads her household essentials into her trunk.

Walmart’s mobile apps are just one example of how the company is pioneering technologies that streamline the shopping experience and help associates build meaningful relationships with customers and develop new skills. This high-tech, high-touch approach in which people and technology work together is the future of retail.

A recent study by the National Retail Federation found that six in 10 consumers said technology-enabled conveniences, such as self-checkout, mobile payments, in-store pickup and in-store navigation, improved their shopping experiences.

“Our customers have gone online,” said John Crecelius, vice president of central operations for Walmart U.S. “They’re using their phones and buying in very different ways than they did even five years ago. As we offer customers better service and new ways of shopping, it changes the way we work inside our stores and how we prepare our associates.”

Rather than eliminate jobs, automation has helped retailers like Walmart add new positions and refine existing roles to make them more rewarding. The U.S. retail industry has created 1.5 million new jobs since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Walmart’s 2018 fiscal year, the company promoted more than 230,000 people to jobs with greater responsibility and higher pay.

“It’s not enough for today’s employees to be technologically experienced,” said Ellen Davis, president of the NRF Foundation and senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives at the National Retail Federation. “New technologies make face to face interaction and interpersonal skills more important than ever.”

People and Technology, Working Together
While there’s a misconception that humans and automation should be at odds, successful companies like Walmart are using technology to make employees’ jobs simpler. By robotizing mundane tasks like scanning and stocking, workers can engage in more stimulating and edifying work, such as interacting with customers and analytical decision-making.

At Walmart Academies, an immersive training program launched in 2016, associates can learn new technologies and acquire advanced retail skills to propel their careers and help them feel more confident in their jobs. So far, the company has opened nearly 200 Walmart Academies and trained more than 500,000 associates.

These new technologies include the Auto-S shelf-scanning robot, a machine the company introduced in 2016 to scan shelves and identify low-stock areas and mispriced or mislabeled items. Using machine learning, Auto-S scours dozens of aisles in less than an hour multiple times per day, a process that used to take throngs of associates days to complete, Crecelius said.

“The time saved by Auto-S gives store associates more time to get excited about items and spend time with customers learning what their needs are,” he said.

Walmart’s claims process was another area where the company leveraged new technologies to improve inelegant systems. In the past, associates and managers used email, paper and different applications to determine what to do with returned and damaged items — a time-consuming and sometimes wasteful process.

In its place, Walmart has introduced a Claims app that associates use to scan items and instantly receive instructions on whether to mark them down, donate them or dispose of them. The Claims app helps Walmart not only comply with health and safety standards, but also promote corporate and civic responsibility by reducing waste and carbon emissions.

“We always try to resell an item,” Crecelius said. “We don’t want items to end up in landfills, and donating or shipping to a return center involves transportation and burning fossil fuels.”

Walmart associates on loading docks and in stockrooms have begun to use a new A.I.-powered machine called the FAST Unloader that unloads and scans items from trucks. Paired with the Auto-S scanner, the FAST Unloader can tell employees where newly unloaded products are most needed. This complex process previously required eight associates. With the FAST Unloader, however, it takes four employees two hours or less to unload a truck.

Rissa Pittman, store manager of a Walmart Supercenter in Rogers, Ark., said associates who previously spent a large portion of their shifts unloading trucks are now learning new skills like customer service and merchandising.

“Technology has allowed us to offer more opportunities within stores that don’t involve just unloading trucks,” Crecelius said.

New Technologies Bring New Jobs and Opportunities
With more associates released from laborious tasks, Walmart has trained many of them to operate new e-commerce technologies that streamline the ordering and pickup experience for customers. Associates using the FAST Unloader can move items from trucks to Walmart Pickup Towers inside and outside of Walmart stores. There, customers need only scan a code from their smartphones to receive online purchases from a tower. No searching required.

“The Pickup Towers are like ATMs for parcels,” said Tom Ward, vice president of digital operations at Walmart. “The entire pickup experience typically takes about eight to 12 seconds.”

Walmart has also retrained associates as personal shoppers for its Grocery Pickup and Grocery Delivery services, which allow busy customers like King to place an order online and have it filled to be picked up or delivered within a one-hour window. With Grocery Delivery, Walmart plans to use 25,000 personal shoppers to reach more than 40 percent of American households by the end of 2018.

“Our business is changing and new services are coming online,” Crecelius said. “Technologies like Pickup Towers and Grocery Delivery and Pickup are improving our ability to use associates to better serve our customers.”

Making Tough Work and Shopping More Enjoyable
As Walmart demonstrates, new technologies allow businesses to not only succeed but also redefine the retail experience by engaging customers and helping employees flourish.

Innovations that optimize convenience can also improve the bottom line, ultimately helping to keep prices low, said Davis from the National Retail Federation. This saves customers time and money. And improving their shopping experiences can build goodwill for decades, she added.

For Pittman’s associates in her Arkansas supercenter, a simple yet clever feature on the FAST Unloader lets employees play music while they work, helping them “get pumped for the day,” she said. For customers like King, the Walmart Grocery app helps budget time and money, creating more family time. Walmart has made shopping, once a dreaded chore for King, easy and fun. For a busy parent juggling a million things, “it’s almost like having one more hand,” she said.

Editor’s Note: This story was produced in partnership with T Brand Studio and was originally published here.

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Army Principles Helped This Walmart Manager Move Up the Ranks

Elise Hackstall no longer wears an Army uniform. But to this day, the military values she learned in her years of service still inform her identity.

Take, for example, the honor code she learned as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy: She’s been known to quote it when talking to her 10-year-old daughter about the importance of honesty.

Then there’s a skill she honed as an Army personnel officer: Be direct and constructive, even when the message you’re conveying might be tough to hear.

For Hackstall, commitment, accountability and leadership weren’t abstract principles but essential traits that propelled her through a military career at Fort Knox.

When she joined Walmart, she quickly noticed a cultural overlap. The company's four basic beliefs had plenty in common with the seven Army values she already knew, sharing an emphasis on respect and integrity.

"A lot of it aligned with who I was," Hackstall says, "so that made Walmart a great fit for me."

That was over 10 years ago. Since then, Hackstall has been promoted multiple times. She started as a shift manager in Columbus, Georgia and became store manager at the biggest Walmart Supercenter in her market. That led her to an opportunity to move into human resources management.

Putting in the (Team) Work

Most recently, she moved back to operations as a developmental market manager, training to supervise teams across multiple stores. This position will give her the skills to apply for market manager positions that open up after her training is complete.

The training, along with her previous position as a market human resources manager across stores in four states, has introduced Hackstall to Walmart employees from a variety of backgrounds.

"It's really helped me to have a bigger appreciation of what kind of people make up our business—people from all over the country who help our stores to be successful," she says.

Hackstall's longstanding interest in human resources work extends back to her Army service at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where she was stationed after graduating from West Point. Hackstall served as a personnel officer and continued in human resources positions after transitioning to the Army Reserve in 2008.

She continued to serve as a reserve officer until this past spring, when she left the military to focus on her career with Walmart.

Hiring Heroes

Walmart is committed to recruiting former military members and matching them with jobs that fit their skills. Hackstall points out three skills that veterans often carry into civilian life: communication, commitment and accountability.

Military people know how to come up with a plan, articulate that plan and carry it out. When a store manager needs someone to run point on Black Friday, the biggest retail day of the year, she says, "If there's a veteran in the store, many times that's the person."

Hackstall adds that Walmart helps to create a network for the veterans it recruits. Recently, she talked with someone who was leaving the military and considering coming to Walmart. What advice did she offer?

"Anybody who joins Walmart will quickly realize whether the company is a fit for them or not," she says. "It's fast-paced, you have to be extremely adaptable, and you can't be rigid in your thought process."

"Limitless" Job Opportunities

Hackstall notes that Walmart offers a broad range of roles that might not be obvious to candidates who think mainly of the day-to-day tasks at a store. From medical services to real estate to information systems, Walmart's size creates all kinds of job types.

"There are limitless opportunities with this company," she says. "Whatever you want to do—short of being a brain surgeon or an astronaut—you can do for Walmart."

For Hackstall, spending time in her new role as developmental market manager fits with her long-term plan to gain experience in multiple facets of Walmart's business. When asked about the future, she doesn't hesitate.

"My end goal is to be the head of HR for the company," she says. "Every single position that I've taken has been to make sure that I am putting myself in a place where I can be competitive for that role."



In the ‘Nick’ of Time, Walmart Driver Helps Hurricane Baby

The week that Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Florida, Nick Davis, like many other Walmart drivers, chose to forgo his regular trucking route.

With a shower trailer hitched to the back of his truck, he left his home in LaGrange, Georgia, to meet associates and their families at a local motel where they took shelter from damaged homes in the wake of the storm. That’s where he met Lorrainda, her husband, Wilmer, and their newborn son, Luke – a family in search of shelter after being discharged from the hospital and without a home only three days after Luke was born.

“If that was me and my family, I would want help.” Nick said, remembering the moment he saw Luke and his parents. So that’s what he did, along with several other Walmart truck drivers helping on the ground. “I was there at the right time and I wasn’t going to let them go.”

Nick and the team at the Walmart supercenter on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach gathered last week to give Luke’s parents the baby shower they deserve, complete with one year of free Parent’s Choice diapers. You can see more of their story in the video above.

Editor’s note: Disaster relief remains one of the top priorities for charitable giving from Walmart, the Walmart Foundation and Sam’s Club, with a combined total of over $12 million contributed to hurricane response and relief just this year.