The Walmart (WMT) employee of the future will be focused more on customer service and much less on tasks like searching for a product in the stock room, according to CEO Doug McMillon.
“There are things about retail that are not enjoyable,” McMillon said at an event on Tuesday hosted by the Economic Club of New York. “Finding inventory in the backroom is not always a joy. There are things that you don’t like. Some of those things can be automated — think task level rather than job level.”
Technology such as handheld devices and apps can reduce some of those tasks like running to the backroom, which allows store associates to focus on customer service.
“As we eliminate those [tasks], what we would like to do is have jobs that pay more, that work more on customer service and merchandising,” McMillon said. “There’s only so much we can do from the home office to merchandise a store well. If you live in that community and work in that store, you know more about what you should be featuring and the actionality on an end cap than someone from Bentonville, Arkansas does. And so we’re letting them buy more inventory, select what the sell, have more skin in the game.”
McMillon’s comments are similar to what Barclays CEO Jes Staley told Yahoo Finance earlier this year about how ATMs didn’t completely replace bank tellers. Today, tellers spend less time on routine services like dispensing cash and taking deposits, and spend more time on services that demand more of a human connection. Barclays now employs more tellers than when they first rolled out the ATM.
A couple of years ago, Walmart raised wages for its associates. The retailer also replaced its existing training program with the Walmart Academy. Walmart now operates 150 academies with plans to open another 50. These academies teach customer service skills, retail math, and how to use technology.
“The future is not going to be driven exclusively by technology, but by people,” McMillon said. “The term that we started using inside the company is we want to be people-led and tech-empowered. And what we’re trying to say is that the humanity of Walmart matters, not the other way around. We use technology. We always have. And we’re using it more now, but it’s not a tech-first company. We’re not a tech company. We’re a people company. ”
Still, McMillon did acknowledge that there would be jobs being displaced. Over the next decade, there will likely be fewer associates in the stores, but there will still be a “bunch of associates,” he said.
“We will see the wage rate continue to go up,” he said. “So, what we would love — not just for Walmart, but for retailers — is to earn a better reputation about the jobs themselves.”
McMillon, who started as an hourly summer associate in 1984, noted that two-thirds of store management began as hourly workers. According to McMillion, the pay for a store manager is $50,000 to $170,000 per year.
“You can go into small towns in middle America and the best paying job in town is the Walmart store manager, better than a doctor or a lawyer.”
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.