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Two top Walmart Inc. executives stressed this week that as the retailer continues pouring resources into e-commerce and store improvements, investing in its employees remains a top priority.

Brett Biggs, Walmart's chief financial officer, said in a conference call with investors Tuesday that since the Bentonville retailer decided in 2015 it needed to invest in these areas, it has raised wages and created training opportunities to help workers move forward in their careers. It has also adopted technology that lets employees spend more time with customers, which he said is what they enjoy.

Full-time workers now earn an average of just under $20 an hour in wages, bonuses and retirement plan contributions, Biggs said. But the training Walmart offers employees tends to be overlooked, he said.

"In the last couple of years, we opened 200 academies across the U.S.," Biggs said, "and even just last year we trained over 450,000 associates in those academies." He added that about 75 percent of its U.S. employees in management today started as hourly workers, and more than 150,000 people got promoted in 2018.

Greg Foran, chief executive officer of Walmart U.S., repeatedly stressed the team approach to store improvement. Speaking Wednesday at an investor conference in Boston, Foran said it requires getting all store employees on board, not just stores' leadership.

Given the retailer's size, with more than 1.2 million U.S. employees, getting everyone on the same page poses a challenge, Foran said. He put it in perspective by breaking down the numbers. Walmart has nearly 10,000 store co-managers, 60,000 assistant managers and 120,000 department managers.

With Foran at Wednesday's conference, Walmart U.S.' Chief Financial Officer Michael Dastugue said, "It's a team sport, and so we all have to work collectively together and we have to keep stepping it up."

Foran later referred back to Walmart's employees, and said improving the experience of working at Walmart is "multifaceted."

"It's not just what they're paid," he said. "It's their education level, how the manager treats them, their opportunity for advancement." While most people may think of Walmart as a big conglomerate, Foran said Walmart is actually "a series of neighborhoods -- 4,700 of them."

Foran said a system to more easily unload trucks is in the works. The trucks arrive fully loaded, with merchandise on pallets stacked onboard. "It's no fun unloading a Walmart truck," he said.

Other innovations will be coming in self-checkout, he said, which is popular with shoppers. Also, customers will soon be able to get refunds for returned merchandise at the front of the store instead of having to go to the service desk.

At Biggs' conference, Raymond James analyst Budd Bugatch asked him about the regulatory issues Walmart's international operations are facing in India and the United Kingdom. The Indian government recently tightened e-commerce rules that affect Walmart's investment in Flipkart, and Walmart's plans to sell its British unit Asda to Sainsbury's were nixed in a provisional ruling by British regulators.

Biggs, who said he's spent half his career working in international retail, replied that Walmart knew going into the Flipkart deal that there would be regulatory changes to work through. Long-term, though, the retailer still feels its $16 billion purchase of a majority stake in Flipkart presents "a great opportunity," he said.

"We don't feel any differently about it than just six months ago," he said. "It's disappointing that you have a law like that changed that quickly, but we've made the adjustments and we are moving forward."

On Asda, Biggs was less forthcoming since Walmart is still hoping a deal can be worked out to satisfy regulators in the U.K. He said a final ruling is expected in the next couple of months.

"So, again, we are continuing to work on what we've heard from the provisional ruling and we'll go forward from here," he said.

Business on 03/07/2019

Print Headline: Retailer praises on-job pluses

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