The Supply Side: [email protected] app aims to improve store efficiency, support employees

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 955 views 

Walmart has in recent years implemented a lot of technology to help store employees, but the latest investment in the [email protected] mobile app is the best thing local store employees said they have seen in a long time.

The app was built in-house by Walmart’s Global Tech for U.S. store employees and has been tested in a handful of stores since November 2020. Walmart Store No. 2686 (1703 E. Central Ave. in Bentonville) was among the first to get the technology, which is on Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones that Walmart makes available to store employees at no cost. Walmart issues the phones, which run on store Wi-Fi, but if employees want to add phone and texting service, they can do so at their own expense. Walmart said it covers the cost of the phone, case and warranty.

The company recently said the [email protected] pilot was expanded twice and will be added to hundreds of more stores over the next several months. Walmart said it will give out more than 740,000 smartphones equipped with the app to help employees with multiple aspects from checking in and out of work to quickly locating which boxes need to go from the back room out to the sales floor.

Drew Holler, senior vice president, Walmart U.S. People Operations, said the app idea started as a way to manage employee schedules and has grown into a tool to help workers save time and be more efficient.

“We believe it’s the first of its kind in the retail industry,” Holler noted in a recent blog post. “As we make enhancements for our customers, we’re also rethinking how we can help our associates succeed in their roles today and deliver some of what they’ll need for the future. The right tools can be the difference between fast and frustrating.”

Zachary Moore, store manager at Walmart No. 2686, told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal before the [email protected] app and the new Samsung smartphones, employees had to share handheld devices. He said there were a limited number of the Zebra Telxon devices introduced about three years ago for store workers to share. Moore said with a limited number of handheld Telxon devices per store, employees were often looking for one to use to complete their tasks. He said they would get taken home or misplaced, and searching for them often became the norm. When the [email protected] app was introduced this past fall, he said all store employees got the Samsung device, and productivity increased.

One of the first functions in the app was scheduling which allows employees to view their shifts up to two weeks in advance. They can also check upcoming paid time off and request changes to their schedule. The mobile clock-in function was added and has become the favored way to clock in and out. The mobile time clock uses geofencing technology around the store, and employees tap the button once when they arrive at the store and can go right to work.

Justin Tallman, stocking team lead at store No. 2686, said this saves employees five to 15 minutes by not having to walk to the back of the store and often wait in line to clock in or out as shifts change. The mobile clock-in is the way most employees start work and clock out of their shifts or sign out for breaks.

Another function the app has is the “push to talk” feature. Moore said only store managers have walkie-talkies, and there are times when co-workers and their team leaders need to talk or exchange information. This new feature allows workers to see everyone who is in the system and then push a button to send them an instant message.

“We are just now starting to use this function, and it allows associates to stay connected at all times,” Moore said.

The app also has the “Ask Sam” feature that is a voice-activated assistant to help employees find products, check processes or get the information they need to do their job. Julianne Fitchue, the front-end lead at store No. 2686, uses the “Ask Sam” feature every day.

“I am up front, and when I get customer calls to see if we have products in stock, all I have to do is use the ‘Ask Sam’ feature,” Fitchue said. “And I can see the inventory we have on hand and also see what is available at other stores nearby. Before this last iteration of ‘Ask Sam’ on Samsung, I would have had to find a Telxon or go look for myself, and then I still wouldn’t know what was in other stores.”

Moore said this function is great for new employees and keeps them working and not having to locate a supervisor for help. He said with store remodels this function is frequently used to locate items that have been moved to other aisles. He said “Ask Sam” is also used for training and other development opportunities.

But one of the biggest assets to the [email protected] app is the Visual Picking function (VizPic) that is a timesaver for those who check boxes out of the back room for shelf replenishment. Tallman and Anthony Apple, operations lead, said this function is a game-changer. Apple said VizPic allows stockers to speed up the time it takes to get items from the back room to the sales floor. Before VizPic, employees had to physically scan the QR codes on each box. This was time-consuming and laborious but necessary to ensure the items in the shortest supply were the first ones sent out to the shelves.

The old program for checking inventory for replenishment was called CAPS and was largely a manual process that used a Telxon to read each QR Code and store that information. With VizPic, the Samsung camera is aimed at the QR codes on boxes. Using augmented reality, the app can detect which boxes need to be moved to the floor first. As the phone is held up and aimed at the boxes with the camera activated, the boxes that need to be moved will have a blue plus-mark on them visible through the phone camera.

Tallman said what used to take two hours to complete can now be done in a few minutes. He said in just 10 seconds he can scan a whole section and be moving items out to the floor more quickly. He and Apple said this function is the best tool they have had to work within their Walmart tenure of a combined 12 years.

Walmart said the patent is pending on this technology for the VizPic function. Keeping shelves well-stocked is important and an area where Walmart continues to need improvement. Walmart said since piloting VizPic last year, the function takes a third of the time of the previous manual process.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.

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