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story.lead_photo.caption This June 25, 2019, file photo shows the entrance to a Walmart in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Walmart Inc. is testing a new feature designed for nursing mothers at a Bentonville Supercenter. The retailer set up a modular "lactation suite" this week in the store at 406 S. Walton Blvd. for customers and employees needing a private, clean place to breast-feed or pump milk.

The free-standing unit was assembled on site and is in the back of the store, near the restrooms, Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield said. That spot was chosen because that part of the store is quiet and convenient for shoppers, she said.

Two other units, in Vermont and Arizona, are involved in the pilot program, Hatfield said. Those have been operational for about two weeks, she said.

How long the pilot project will last depends on the feedback the Bentonville retailer gets on the units, Hatfield said. "We really are looking forward to getting feedback from associates and our customers who are using it," she said. "And so at that point, we can make a decision on whether we want to roll this out on a broader scale."

So far, the response has been encouraging, Hatfield said. "While it's too early to have hard data and metrics, the response that we're getting from moms has been great. They really like it. They appreciate it and the fact that we're providing it."

Walmart employee Tennille Webb first brought the "pods," designed and sold by Vermont company Mamava, to the attention of Walmart's leaders. Then a senior portfolio manager in the retailer's real estate division, Webb first encountered one of the units while on a business trip.

"I was a first-time mom, and I was really committed to keeping my breast-feeding relationship going with my son," Webb said. "I knew that meant I'd have to pump while I was traveling for work, and it was actually on a work trip that I saw a Mamava pod at the Atlanta airport.

"I went in and I used it and I thought it was really great," Webb said. "I thought it could be something I could bring back to the home office and share with leadership so it could be implemented for our associates and customers in stores."

Webb, who is now a senior business relationship manager in global management solutions, said Walmart's leaders "were really receptive to the idea and and supported my peers and I in putting together a business base. And we did that and here we are, three stores later."

Hatfield said Walmart already provides a place for its employees, "but the Mamava pod provides another choice for our associates. And it also allows us to offer that same choice to our customers, and it's free of charge."

Retailers want to solve any problem that takes shoppers -- especially moms -- out of the store, said Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail. "Walmart will benefit from the pods by simply giving moms fewer excuses to leave the store," she said, "and should also get credit from these shoppers for making their lives easier."

"This should be a real win for Walmart," Spieckerman said, "provided that the pods are properly maintained and conveniently located."

Business on 08/30/2019

Print Headline: Mothers focus of retailer's pod test

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