Walmart Inc. is rolling out the red carpet for shoppers during the Black Friday holiday weekend, doling out everything from deep discounts to free coffee and cookies. Its legions of store employees, though, won’t see anything special this year.
Despite an extremely tight labour market, recent wage hikes by rivals and concerns that the historically frugal retailer will seek to get even leaner next year, Walmart workers will receive exactly the same perks this year when they leave their Thanksgiving tables to work. Staff will get a free dinner and 25 percent off one basket of items to take home — no different from the last two years.
“We will run the programme we’ve run in the past,” Walmart’s US Chief Merchandising Officer Steve Bratspies said on a call with reporters, adding that the company has received “great feedback” from employees about the meal and the discounted goods.
Meanwhile, Walmart’s spending big on shoppers: It has added tailored store maps to direct shoppers to deals on TVs and toys, and online promotions will kick off earlier than ever. The retailer will also host “Light Up Black Friday” parties designed “to help pump up customers” before stores open at 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day.
Employees, meanwhile, shouldn’t need any pumping up: “If you work in retail and can’t get excited for Black Friday,” Bratspies said, “you are not working in the right business.”
Walmart has once again declined to hire any additional seasonal staff, preferring to make do by having existing associates take extra shifts. That contrasts with rival Target Corp., which has added a record 120,000 temporary workers and is paying them $12 an hour, a dollar above Walmart’s starting wage. Amazon.com Inc. has also boosted warehouse staffers’ wages to $15 an hour, which includes those doing temporary holiday stints. Walmart raised its starting wage to $11 earlier this year and expanded benefits like parental and adoption leave.
Outside Walmart, employers of all stripes are offering higher pay and better perks to compete in the tightest labour market in years. J.C. Penney Co. is offering holiday workers the chance to win reward packages like Miami vacations worth up to $5,000, while Target is holding $500 gift-card drawings for employees. The US unemployment rate stands at 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969, and job openings exceed the number of out of work people.
Walmart’s been responding to the tight labour market by using robots to handle mundane tasks like cleaning its floors and checking aisles for out-of-stock products. The company has said automation has not eliminated jobs as those employees are diverted to other roles.
But at its investor conference, Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon pledged to manage expenses “aggressively” to protect profit margins that have narrowed due to the company’s big investments online to battle Amazon.
Labor is one of Walmart’s biggest expenses. At the investor meeting, US CEO Greg Foran said that the ratio of managers to employees in stores “will change” but declined to provide details. Earlier this year, Walmart weeded out about 3,500 store co-managers, a salaried role underneath each store manager, while adding a smaller number of lower-paid assistant store managers. To be sure, Walmart’s approach to its employees over the holidays hasn’t hurt its performance.