Wal-Mart seeks customer service feedback with kiosk in Bentonville store

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 416 views 

There are numerous ways retail giant Wal-Mart assesses customer service feedback from its 5,000 U.S. stores. But there is evidence that a kiosk positioned directly in the front of the store could be a new way Wal-Mart solicits direct customer service feedback from its 140 million weekly shoppers.

The HappyOrNot kiosk is being tested at Walmart Store No. 100 which is located directly across the from the retailer’s corporate headquarter offices in Bentonville. This store is often a test lab given its proximity to top management teams. During a 20-minute period on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 14) there were no shoppers who used the kiosk to rate their experience. Traffic in the store was heavy ahead of inclement weather and last minute Valentine's Day shoppers.

Wal-Mart did not say if this kiosk would be added to other stores, only noting it is a test. Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran has made no secret of his efforts to improve store operations across the U.S. fleet. With some 5,000 stores, the retailer has said making changes at the bottom performing 10% is a big job.

Foran has spent much of the last five months on the job as chief of U.S. stores out in the field. He said during the recent Year Beginning Meetings that he’s visited about 70 stores and talked with hundreds of employees. That’s a mere drop in the bucket given the shear size of the U.S. fleet. 

“Retail is detail … we’ve got a lot of work to do, one store at a time,” Foran told analysts during the Investor Meeting in October.

Kiosks could certainly help speed up the process helping busy store managers assess their own store feedback given that Foran is set on “fixing the shopping experience.” He said the store experience is everything from better customer service, cleaner stores, improved fresh departments, better in-stock numbers; while also bringing down overall inventory levels that have been rising at twice the rate of sales in recent quarters.

Seeking Alpha analyst Brian Gilmartin writes that one of the bigger issues over the last two years has been traffic erosion. The last time Wal-Mart U.S. posted positive quarterly traffic was in the fourth quarter of 2012. Following are traffic stats from Wal-Mart U.S. stores

Oct. 2014: down 0.7%
July 2014: down 1.1%
April 2014: down 1.4%
Jan. 2014: down 1.7%
Oct. 2013: down 0.4%
July 2013: down 0.5%
April 2013: down 1.8%
Jan. 2013: down 0.1%

All eyes will be on Wal-Mart’s customer traffic report later this week (Feb. 19) as the retailer reports its fiscal fourth quarter results for 2015. Gilmartin said Wal-Mart is having to use price to offset low traffic, which is challenging the retailer’s “Every Day Low Price” mantra.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon recently said the company will return to the Every Day Low Price” (EDLP) model and reduce promotional pricing efforts. He has challenged suppliers to help the retailer return to EDLP.

Foran has won the favor of analysts as he’s made no excuses for the lackluster operations often reported in mainstream media. One of the first moves by Foran was boosting the importance of operational meetings. He said it goes back to the days of Sam Walton, with operational management meetings on Friday to make sure they are ready to maximize sales on Saturday and Sunday which will be reviewed on Monday.

“It reminds us each week about the urgency of every weekend. Sales have got to come up and traffic must also improve,” Foran said.