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story.lead_photo.caption This undated file photo shows Wal-Mart's sign in front of its Bentonville headquarters.

Walmart Inc. issued tightened guidelines Thursday for all employee travel, and canceled a meeting in Dallas that was set for next week as the coronavirus continues to spread. The company expects the new travel restrictions and a move to video conferencing in place of some meetings to be in place at least through April, a memo to employees stated.

As for whether there's been any talk at Walmart about possible change in the scheduling of its annual shareholders meeting, traditionally held the first Friday in June, a Walmart spokesman said it's early for such discussions. The Bentonville-based retailer has made "no decision on that front," he said.

Chief People Officer Donna Morris and Chief Medical Officer Tom Van Gilder said in the memo that the company is restricting international travel to business-critical trips in all markets in which it operates. Prior approval is required for any such trip, they said.

In the U.S., Walmart will continue to allow domestic travel "related to essential operations" such as store and club visits. But the company will restrict travel to conferences, trade shows and other events deemed less essential.

For domestic travel within countries outside the U.S., "each country president will establish or alter their domestic travel guidelines as appropriate," the memo stated. Walmart has operations in 27 countries, and employs about 2.2 million workers worldwide.

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Morris and Van Gilder announced the cancellation of next week's Walmart U.S. Customer Conference in Dallas, saying, "It seems best to cancel given the size of that meeting, plus the benefit of having our store managers present in their stores during this time. We will have a virtual form of the meeting to share some key points."

At Walmart's headquarters and other offices around the country, they said, workers will still attend meetings. "However, we don't want you to travel for them," Van Gilder and Morris said. "Let's use video conferencing or call in rather than travel."

"In coming weeks and months, as the world learns more about this virus, we will evaluate our response and keep you informed," they said in the memo. More information is available on employee websites, which will be updated frequently.

Companies in many industries have curtailed travel and canceled events in recent weeks in light of the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, Google canceled its annual developers conference scheduled for May in Mountain View, Calif. The company said it was considering offering livestreamed or remote sessions instead.

E-commerce marketplace Shopify said Friday it won't host its annual conference for sellers set for Toronto in May. "Because of the evolving public health concerns around COVID-19, we've made the hard but necessary decision to cancel the in-person element of Unite 2020," Shopify Chief Technology Officer Jean-Michel Lemieux said in a statement to sellers. The company is refunding tickets, and exploring ideas for a "reimagined" conference.

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Amazon restricted employee travel to China on Feb. 7. But on Friday, the online retailer banned all nonessential domestic and international travel, and The New York Times reported that Amazon's worldwide operations team was told not to plan any meetings requiring travel until at least April.

Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics LLC, said in a note Tuesday that retailers, many of whom are coming off of a weak fourth quarter, "face vast structural changes in consumer behavior, fulfillment investments and digital competition" as the virus threatens both supply and demand.

Adding to their troubles, retailers like Walmart and Amazon.com that offer a marketplace for third-party sellers are having to root out those trying to cash in on coronavirus fears by inflating prices on items such as hand sanitizer and face masks. Some sellers also offer products claiming without evidence to prevent or even cure the virus.

Walmart has a dedicated team that monitors its third-party marketplace for price gouging or spurious "cures." However, the Walmart spokesman said customers themselves can report problems they notice with items on the e-commerce site.

To report an item, the spokesman said, customers should use the link on the item page, just below the product image, that says "Report incorrect product information."

The team monitoring Walmart's online marketplace works year-round to check for any products that may be problematic in some way, such as counterfeit goods, the spokesman said. "The team works on a daily basis because even though they are third-party sellers, we still want people to have a good experience and to be able to trust the platform," he said.

Business on 03/06/2020

Print Headline: Virus cuts travel for Walmart, others

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