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Saturday, 6 February 2010

Clocking On

I've completed my first four-day week as a Wal*Mart Sales Associate, though three days were spent entirely in training, so I've had just one day on the shop floor.

Wal*Mart gets a certain amount of flak in the US, in the same way that Tesco does in the UK. Some people resent the company's success, and they way their presence in a town can damage, and often eventually destroy, local shopping high streets and old established (i.e. dusty and outdated) companies.

I can't resent Wal*Mart, or Tesco, for doing what everyone else is trying to do and being more successful at it, and I'm very grateful that they're prepared to employ me, even though I have no previous retail experience, or indeed experience of working in the USA at all. Meanwhile I'm learning a lot, and enjoying a job that requires more physical activity than my previous 15 years as a desk jockey, though I did feel quite stiff after a day standing, lifting and carrying, pushing and pulling, and generally working the store.

The first thing for me to grasp is what I am required to do every day. Let's assume that at 9am on day 1 the shelves are all neatly filled with items the customers want to buy, are correctly labelled for price, and are in good condition.

By 10am some items will have been bought (excellent), some taken off one shelf and returned to the wrong shelf, or moved to a different part of the store entirely before the customer decides to abandon it. Some may have been broken open to smell (this seems to apply particularly to tumble-dryer sheets), or feel (tissues), and left, the customer of course taking a fresh unopened item if they decide to buy. Some items will unfortunately have been stolen.

By 9am on day 2 the shelves will be a mess, if the Sales Associates don't keep busy. During the day then, I am "zoning", which means tidying the shelves, ensuring the items are easy to see and reach, bringing stock forward on the shelves if the front row has been disarrayed or bought, and also making sure the area is safe for everyone by picking up litter and mopping up any spills. I'm working in Pet Supplies, Household Chemicals and Paper Products, so there's plenty of opportunities for spills.

I'm also available at any time for a customer enquiry. At present I know very little about our stock and where things are located, but I'm picking things up rapidly, and even on my first day was able to guide several customers to what they wanted, take them there, or find a more experienced Associate to provide the knowledge I lacked.

During the evening hours of day 1 after I've left the store, the overnight shift will be "picking", which I understand to mean they examine the sales figures (via the till receipts and the computer system), and put out replacement stock on trolleys in the back (or receiving) area, ready for Associates to put onto the shelves. They may also be putting stock on the shelves, and possibly arranging new displays. Wal*Mart is open 24/7, so we restock the shelves continuously.

Stock which has been abandoned within the shop can be returned to the shelves (if it's undamaged), or put side at the front of the store for someone else to do so. Yesterday I tended to di it all myself, but if I don't know where something belongs then I'll have to let someone else do it.

Broken items and items with broken packaging we usually remove from the shelves and take back to "Claims". For things that people like smelling or touching (e.g. air fresheners, tissues) , we might leave out one open box as a tester, because if we don't someone will only open a new box anyway. "Claims" (named for the fact that we will usually try to claim a refund from the manufacturer) covers anything that is in an unsaleable condition, and also deals with stolen stock, assuming we have something (say an empty box) to show that an item was stolen. Of course there are security cameras and other methods in place, but you can't catch everything. Wal*Mart actually catches and prosecutes about three times the number of shoplifters that our rivals do, so it's a really bad place to try your luck.

Customers may also return items after purchase for many possible reasons. These may go back on the shelves, or go back to claims if they are damaged or otherwise unsaleable.

So after Day One on the shop floor, I'd define my main three work goals as:

1) Maintain a clean, tidy, safe and friendly environment for the the customers and staff.
2) Keep shelves stocked and items and prices easy to find, so the shopper can find the items they need.
3) Help the customers enjoy their shopping experience, so they leave happy and want to return.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed that perspective. It's my impression that many WM stores have been retrofitted so that they're brighter, and don't have so much of the grey, canyonesque quality I used to very much not like. The store convenient to where we usually shop is a Target, so I haven't frequented WMs. You're right about the rep, or rap they get, but you correctly point out that there are many facets to every story. And Sam Walton was an interesting entrepreneur, for sure.

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