U.S. Manufacturing

Work is a beautiful thing

Over the past few weeks, there’s been quite a bit of excitement around our “I Am a Factory” commercial, which was shot in real factories with real factory employees. It features narration from Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs.

“I Am a Factory” highlights our commitment to the revitalization of America’s manufacturing industry and underscores our promise that, over the next 10 years, we’ll invest $250 billion more in products that support American manufacturing. It’s spurred plenty of conversation about how we continue to invest in American jobs – and we hope this renewed interest in driving economic growth in the U.S. will inspire others to think about what they can do to make things here again. That includes our current suppliers, new suppliers, factories with capacity around the country and others retailers.

Mike is passionate about creating manufacturing jobs in the United States, and so are we. His recent interviews at CNN and Fox News offer a refreshing take on the task that’s in front of us, and we’re glad to count him as a partner in getting America back to work. Because work is a beautiful thing. 

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Innovation

How Smartphones are Enabling a Smarter Way of Working in Stores

The number of things we’re able to accomplish through our smartphones today is truly amazing.

You can check the weather or stay up-to-date on the news. You can even sync your calendar with family to make sure everyone is on the same page. Thanks to a new initiative rolling out in our stores, our associates can now use their smartphones as that same kind of assistant at work – with tasks that are directly related to their jobs.

We’re rolling out Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in October to give associates another option to stay connected – this time from the familiar turf of their own smartphones. Although our sales floor associates can continue to access Walmart’s digital network by checking out a handheld device at the back of the store (in fact, we’re adding tens of thousands more of them to the stores over the coming months), they will now have the convenience of also using a smartphone if they desire. We know technology is helping our associates be more productive and deliver for our customers in new ways. BYOD is just another option our people will have to access the custom apps that help associates perform their jobs.

Through the new program, participating associates have the option to download our app suite directly to their own personal devices. This is another way to access the tools that help our people understand the health of their business, and spend more time on the sales floor serving customers. And the best part? Associates also receive a discount on their monthly phone bills.

With BYOD, the moment associates clock in at work, they have tools that enable them to do the best job possible, right in their pockets. Our suite of custom apps, which become accessible at clock-in, is also broader than ever before, complete with features like the PlanIT app – a hub for all announcements that directly matter to our associates, coming right from our home office in Bentonville, Arkansas.

For many associates who want to use their own device for work, privacy can be a concern. That is why we have been very specific about what Walmart can and can’t see on associates’ phones. Some pieces of information are helpful in making the program more useful for our associates. Other information is not necessary, so we don’t access it.

What CAN be seen by Walmart:

  • Battery Level
  • Make and Model of the device
  • Operating System (OS) version
  • Corporate Email and Data
  • Storage Usage
  • Carrier
  • Phone Number
  • Country

What CAN’T be seen by Walmart:

  • Personal Email and Data
  • Photos/Videos
  • Voicemail - Corporate or personal
  • Text – iOS or Android
  • Web Activity
  • List of Apps
  • Location

Spencer Schmidt is a sales floor associate at a supercenter in Fort Smith, Arkansas, one of the first stores that tested the BYOD functionality. He says the best thing about using his own device at work is the convenience of logging in as soon as he clocks in for his shift.

“BYOD basically works just like our store devices – I can pop it open when a customer needs help, look up items and find where they are in the store. But with my phone, the apps are always on me. As soon as I clock in, I can see what notes have been assigned to me and start working on them right away.”

And as our applications continue to evolve with the technology that delivers them, our people will have access to even more. Associates are excited to have more information at hand – to better themselves and to serve customers better. Whether it’s with BYOD or a store-issued device, each individual associate is more empowered than ever to take a leadership role in the success of their own stores.

We’ve introduced a lot of advanced technology to help our associates work faster and smarter, from virtual reality-based training to our Bossa Nova shelf scanners that make the inventory process quick and easy. Associates have caught on really well, but what I love about BYOD is that the tech we’re introducing is something that’s already second nature to most of our associates. It’s a smarter way to work – for the business, for our associates, and for customers.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Answering the Open Call: Entrepreneurs Bring It at Walmart’s Annual Event

It was high-stakes show-and-tell yesterday at Walmart’s annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event.

Entrepreneurs representing more than 450 businesses roamed the halls of our Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas, awaiting their turn to pitch everything from salsa to sportswear in front of Walmart buyers. Weaving my way through the crowd, I saw hundreds of original and inventive items and had the privilege of meeting some of the people and hearing some of the stories behind them.

A few of those people walked away with deals, a few heard maybes and others received feedback that will prepare them to try again. Here are five of my favorites.

1. Flying High. Megan Hardwick had a roller-coaster ride of a day. The business owner and mom had to pitch her Wings Cosmetics eyeliner stamps twice: once in a small room in front of a buyer, then in an auditorium filled with other hopefuls and Walmart associates. Our cosmetics buyer was sold on Megan’s invention – flexible plastic stamps that apply liquid or gel eyeliner in sharp, matching wing shapes in seconds.

Flying high after getting a deal, she was selected for a live pitch session called “Bring It,” where businesses vied for crowdsourcing to identify which products would get placement in Walmart stores. Megan’s Wings went up against Mighty Good Pizza Saver – a microwavable plastic container that keeps leftover pizza fresh – and the competition was intense, with the Pizza Saver taking the lead by one point seconds before the polls closed. Megan wasn’t out of the game though. Her Wings pulled through and the contest ended with a tie.

2. Sparking Interest. Warren Brown, a lawyer-turned-baker from the Washington, D.C., area, attended his first Open Call in 2017 and ultimately landed a deal for Don’t Forget Cake: a single-serve layer cake with frosting in a jar. This year, he presented a healthier snacking option called Spark Bites. Warren said these whole-grain snacks are gluten- and allergen-free, high in fiber, low in cane sugar and come in five different flavors. His Spark Bites were referred to another buyer in a category that better fits the product. As for Don’t Forget Cake, two flavors launched in March and will soon be available in 1,000 Walmart stores.

3. Ugly Dates Deserve Love. This story begins all the way in Israel. When David Czinn and his friend and business partner, Brian Finkel, were studying abroad in the Middle East, they both fell in love with the region’s alternative to honey: D’vash date nectar. The sweetener has been a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years, David said, and the duo wanted to bring it to the States – but they wanted to cut the sugar and make it environmentally friendly. Thus D’vash Organics was born. Their dates come from Coachella Valley farms in California. “We buy the ugly ones that wouldn’t otherwise be sold,” David said. The nectar is vegan, has 25% less sugar than honey and can add flavor to tea and coffee, marinades, salad dressing and much more. David, a second-time Open Call participant, said he got positive feedback and was excited for the future of this ancient delight as he prepared for more meetings later in the day.

4. Party to Go. With the summer heat just getting started, ready-to-go cocktails sound like a great idea for parties and relaxing evenings outside with friends. YUMIX has quenched the need with three flavors – Orange Mango, Margarita and Sea Breeze. Everything needed is in one bottle: Simply twist off the bottom chamber that holds the alcohol, pour into the bottle and mix. Alex Garner, founder and CEO, started the day off right when he walked out of the pitch meeting with a deal for these adult beverages.

5. The Heart of the Deal. Not everyone was at Open Call with products in tow. Businessman Ray Doustdar was back for his second year with advice and a listening ear. In 2017, Ray pitched his liquid multivitamins, Buiced – a play on “boost your veggie juice” – and didn’t immediately get a deal because the product was too big for Walmart’s shelves. Ray took the buyer’s feedback home, adjusted the size of the packaging, approached the buyer again and got his “yes.” Two flavors of Buiced, citrus and fruit punch, are now available in 3,000 stores, and the experience has been life-changing for Ray. “I knew I wanted to come back as a success story and help other people prepare for their meetings,” Ray said. “This experience has made me be better at my business,” he said, and being able to pay it forward as a mentor is important to him.

Ray said it best: “The stories coming out of Open Call are proof that the American dream is alive and well.”

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Opportunity

How My Disability is Helping Make Walmart.com More Accessible

On August 28, 2000, I began my career at Walmart eCommerce.

I began as a product copywriter, responsible for writing thousands of item descriptions. I progressed to become a senior manager on our site merchandising and customer experience team.

At the same time I was expanding my focus on customer experience, I was also losing my eyesight.

By 2015, I was in the thick of vision loss, but refused to let anyone see the battle I was fighting inside. I came to work every day without using a white cane or guide dog, because I was afraid of what people would think if they knew I had a disability. Would their perceptions of my abilities change? Would this impact my career growth?

I soon began using assistive technology called a screen reader that read all accessible content on my computer, tablet and smart phone – enabling me to thrive in a digital world. Within a matter of days, I quickly realized that for the first time in 15 years, I could no longer shop our website. Walmart.com was not accessible for screen readers. I immediately thought about the more than 20% of the U.S. population touched by disabilities and wondered how many of them couldn’t shop our site, either.

I suddenly realized that I had an opportunity to make a difference on inclusion for our associates and accessibility for our customers. It was time to take what I perceived as a liability and turn it into an asset. As I began to share my situation with a trusted HR partner, she introduced me to a colleague, and now dear friend, Russell Shaffer, who has the same degenerative retinal disease as me. Russell’s passion for inclusion and his invaluable support (along with my first guide dog) gave me just the dose of courage I needed to be able to bring my true self to work.

Nearly three years later, I can tell you that the day I stepped out of my comfort zone is the day I stepped into the most challenging, yet rewarding, job of my career. Today, I am proud to lead accessibility for Walmart eCommerce, proud to co-chair our internal group for associates with disabilities and proud to be part of a company that continues to promote the importance of diverse thought leadership as part of its overall commitment to diversity and inclusion.

I am now principal product owner of digital accessibility, and my job is educating and enabling teams across our company to build accessibility into our culture and the way we work. When we start with digital inclusion and universal design, we deliver a better experience for everyone. Walmart eCommerce is just embarking on the accessibility journey. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made and excited about the opportunity to continue optimizing our digital properties. From the audits of our site and apps to the changes we’ve made in our processes, we’re continuing to make our experience more accessible. We have also made great strides with our grocery offering, as we know how important it is to make grocery shopping easy for everyone. And, our customers with disabilities have told us online grocery pickup and delivery are making a difference in their lives.

Another key focus area is driving accessibility innovation for internal software applications, ensuring that everything Walmart builds for the accessibility of our customers is also built to make associates’ lives easier as well.

Sharing my story has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am grateful for both the personal and professional connections that I’ve made along this journey.

In addition to my day-to-day work at Walmart, I also frequently travel to conferences to speak. The thing that humbles me the most, and what makes my work so rewarding, is the fact that other major corporations are also making accessibility a priority for the benefit of their customers and colleagues. When Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google can all sit down together over the issue of accessibility and devote their resources toward tackling this challenge, it transcends competitive boundaries and sends a clear message that people with disabilities are assets. We bring new and different perspectives to the workforce, we adapt quickly and are extreme problem solvers.

Thanks to the culture of trust within Walmart, I am really proud to be me. The me with a disability. The me that is so honored to be part of a team of associates who have leaned in and learned how to truly make a difference in so many people’s lives.

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Business

Q&A: Eko Founder on Walmart Deal, Changing the Game in Entertainment

Walmart and Eko’s new joint venture, W*E Interactive Ventures, is poised to bring an exciting approach to entertainment to a much larger audience. We caught up with Yoni Bloch, the CEO of Eko, to learn more about the future of his company’s work with Walmart.

Q: For those who don’t know Eko, tell us about your technology and approach to interactive media.

A: Eko is a technology company leading the charge in interactive entertainment. We have over 15 patents that enable the creation, distribution, measurement and monetization of streaming interactive video. All these things come together as a storytelling platform that empowers participants to shape stories as they unfold.

Since 2010, we’ve created interactive content for major brands like Coca-Cola, Samsung, IKEA, Shell, Madewell and Red Bull. We’ve collaborated with artists like Coldplay, Carly Rae Jepsen, Aloe Blacc, Major Lazer and Bob Dylan.

More recently, we’ve ventured into interactive serialized entertainment. We’ve launched the comedy, That Moment When, with Sony and a reimagining of 1983’s WarGames with MGM.

With our Walmart partnership, we are excited to explore groundbreaking interactive content even further.

Q: What separates your interactive content from other entertainment sources?

A: There’s a vast landscape of entertainment sources out there; from Candy Crush to Game of Thrones to social media. They’re all valid and exciting mediums, but none combine interactivity with filmmaking.

Eko Originals are created by acclaimed Hollywood storytellers and game visionaries to harness the best of both of these worlds and give audiences greater participation than ever before. A viewer suddenly transforms into a participant creating an incredible sense of collaboration and complicity in the story itself. With our content, we suddenly have the “water cooler effect 2.0”: Instead of discussing the season finale, you’ll discuss what happened on your season finale.

Q: How do you envision Eko’s technology changing the ways that we interact with entertainment?

A: We all interact thousands of times a day. Every single person has a media playing device on them at all times (sometimes two or three). Texting, playing games, chatting—everything we do is interactive. And then video starts to play and...we lean back. Storytelling is the last medium to catch up.

But those days are over. The bandwidth is here, the hardware is here and now the software is here. Everyone’s ready to be a part of their stories, and we’re happy to give them these experiences.

We’re not changing the way we interact. We’re catching up to how we already do.

Q: Why are you passionate about audiences interacting with their media in this way?

A: Rather than sit back as passive viewers, interactivity empowers audiences to participate in stories. This drives deeper emotional connections with content, leading to unprecedented levels of engagement.

Depending on the interactive experience, participants could shape a protagonist’s decisions and personality or completely change the tone of the show—the possibilities are endless. You get drawn in when you make choices. You become more empathetic, more invested, more inspired.

Our belief is that interactivity should bring you closer to the feeling that your imagination is part of the story. Otherwise, interactivity is just a gimmick. And, we’re not a gimmick. We’re a powerful tool for self-expression.

Q: Talk about this deal with Walmart. What possibilities will this open up for Eko and Walmart?

A: This is the biggest investment to date in interactive video entertainment. It creates an unprecedented opportunity to develop premium interactive series but also to link commerce and entertainment in innovative ways that are entertaining and helpful.

By pulling in consumers to engage and shape their own personalized experiences, we are innovating far beyond the passive viewing experience of traditional digital video, branded or not.

Our partnership is part of a larger entertainment ecosystem Walmart is building. Through interactive content, Walmart will ultimately connect with its customers on a much deeper, more meaningful level. Through our partnership, we’re combining forces to bring the next generation of premium interactive entertainment to a diverse, mainstream audience.

Q: What can customers and viewers expect from this venture?

A: If you’re a gamer, your jaw will drop the first time you play a movie. If you love movies and TV, your jaw will drop when you realize you can be part of the story.

Everyone who participates in an Eko Original has the same reaction: “This is the future.”

From the moment you begin, you realize you’re on the cusp of an entirely new art form. By just participating in it, you’re part of it.

Passive entertainment isn’t going away. But interactive entertainment is here at long last. So, what can they expect? They can expect to have their minds blown.

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