Robots Allow Walmart to Better Use “Workers for New Tasks”

(p. B4) Walmart plans to use autonomous robots in more stores by next year to scan shelf inventory to be able to detect products that are out of stock and direct workers and shoppers to precise product locations, Mark Ibbotson, head of central operations for Walmart U.S., said in an interview.

Walmart is also adding automatic conveyor belts to backrooms that sort products to speed the process of unloading the roughly nine trucks that arrive at a typical store each week, executives said at a presentation in June. The conveyor belts cut the number of workers needed to unload trucks by half, from around eight to four, they said.

The changes give Walmart more labor dollars to spend on “pickers,” workers who roam the store to compile online orders that are picked up by customers in store parking lots, said Mr. Ibbotson.

“It’s a savings” that allows Walmart to keep labor costs steady, through attrition and better using workers for new tasks, he said.

For the full story, see:

Sarah Nassauer. “Retailers Bring on Robots.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 2, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 1, 2018, and has the title “Target, Walmart Automate More Store Tasks.”)

Retail Clinics Grow as Office Visits to Physicians Decline

(p. 1) Is the doctor in?
In this new medical age of urgent care centers and retail clinics, that’s not a simple question. Nor does it have a simple answer, as primary care doctors become increasingly scarce.
“You call the doctor’s office to book an appointment,” said Matt Feit, a 45-year-old screenwriter in Los Angeles who visited an urgent care center eight times last year. “They’re only open Monday through Friday from these hours to those hours, and, generally, they’re not the hours I’m free or I have to take time off from my job.
“I can go just about anytime to urgent care,” he continued, “and my co-pay is exactly the same as if I went to my primary doctor.”
That’s one reason big players like CVS Health, the drugstore chain, and most recently Walmart, the giant retailer, are eyeing deals with Aetna and Humana, respectively, to use their stores to deliver medical care.
People are flocking to retail clinics and urgent care centers in strip malls or shopping centers, where simple health needs can usually be tended to by health professionals like nurse practitioners or physician assistants much more cheaply than in a doctor’s office. Some 12,000 are already scattered across the country, according to Merchant Medicine, a consulting firm.
On the other side, office visits to primary care doctors declined 18 percent from 2012 to 2016, even as visits to specialists increased, insurance data analyzed by the Health Care Cost Institute shows.

For the full story, see:
REED ABELSON and JULIE CRESWELL. “Merger Medicine and the Disappearing Doctor.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, April 8, 2018): 1 & 7.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 7, 2018, and has the title “The Disappearing Doctor: How Mega-Mergers Are Changing the Business of Medical Care.”)

How Wal-Mart Benefits Small Entrepreneurs

(p. B1) At the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. here, dozens of its buyers held half-hour meetings earlier this month with hundreds of prospective suppliers touting products–from frozen deep-fried turkeys to toddler dirt bikes–all eager for a chance to land on the shelves of the world’s largest retailer.
Scott Bonge, a Little Rock, Ark., investor and father of three, was trying to interest Wal-Mart in his plastic shaving stencil, the GoateeSaver. With sales of shaving gear falling as more men embrace scruff and beards, Wal-Mart is looking for different shaving paraphernalia to sell.
The product “came out of my own need for something to keep my goatee looking even back in college,” Mr. Bonge told Jason Kloster, senior buyer for personal care at Wal-Mart.
Mr. Kloster then drilled down into how many American men have goatees. Without an exact answer, Mr. Bonge noted that they are popular in the South among men over 25.
“I’ve been in the category for four years and I’ve never heard of your brand,” Mr. Kloster said. “Your biggest challenge is awareness.” Mr. Kloster suggested selling the device on Walmart.com to test demand before offering it in stores.
The daylong event provides a window into the relationship between Wal-Mart and its suppliers as well as the influence retailers have both on selecting the products for their shelves and how those products appear.
These meetings serve a clear purpose for prospective suppliers–a shot at vaulting into retail’s big leagues.

For the full story, see:
SARAH NASSAUER. “Inside Wal-Mart’s ‘Shark Tank’.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 23, 2015): B1 & B7.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 22, 2015 and has the title “Pitching Products to Wal-Mart, in 30 Minutes.”)

Wal-Mart Nimbly Evades Bank Industry Efforts to Restrict Competition

(p. B3) Here comes Wal-Bank.
After years of thwarted efforts to break into banking, Walmart is making its biggest foray yet into everyday financial services.
Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is teaming up with Green Dot, known for its prepaid payment cards, to supply checking accounts to almost anyone over 18 who passes an ID check.
. . .
. . . the new Walmart initiative will be the first full-blown, off-the-shelf checking account. To help attract customers, Walmart and Green Dot will forgo a screening system many banks use to vet potential customers and rely instead on a proprietary system. The model is expected to allow almost any consumer who passes an identification check to open an account in minutes, according to Green Dot.
In the past, Walmart has tried to secure a federal bank charter to become a deposit-taking bank, but abandoned that effort in 2007 in the face of opposition from the banking industry. Since then, the retailer has assembled an array of services that could be offered without a charter, as well as partnerships with financial service companies like Green Dot.

For the full story, see:
HIROKO TABUCHI and JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG. “Finding a Door Into Banking, Walmart Prepares to Offer Checking Accounts.” The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 24, 2014): B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2014, and has the title “Walmart Prepares to Offer Low-Cost Checking Accounts.”)

Brazilian Entrepreneur Inspired by “The Men Who Built America”

HangLucianoArrivesAtFlagshipHavanStoreInBrusque2013-09-29.jpgThe co-founder of the Havan chain, Luciano Hang, arrives at the chain’s flagship store, which is in Brusque, Brazil. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) “My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States,” said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. “I tell people that we’re about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop,” he added. “I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between.”
. . .
The son of textile factory workers, descended from German and Italian immigrants, Mr. Hang said he admired European culture but preferred the United States. He said he was inspired by a show on the History Channel, “The Men Who Built America,” about industrial titans like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
“I couldn’t sleep after I saw that program,” he said.
His business model is partly based on Walmart, whose small-town origins he admires, as well as its method of turning economies of scale into low prices.

For the full story, see:
SIMON ROMERO. “Reshaping Brazil’s Retail Scene, Inspired by Vegas and Vanderbilt.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 14, 2013.)

“Richly Researched” Study of “Ironies of Antitrust Policy” in Retailing

(p. 819) Levinson’s book opens up a crucial discussion on the role of integrated retailer-distributors in shaping the twentieth-century U.S. economy. As he rightly notes in the book’s conclusion, A&P was in many ways the Walmart of its day: it used its buying power to squeeze inefficiencies out of supply chains, it was widely reviled for upending small-town business patterns and bitterly fighting union organizers, and yet it drew waves of customers who appreciated its low prices. While we have many business histories of mass-production industries, we have only a handful of richly researched studies of the mass retailers that have, in the words of historian Nelson Lichtenstein (2009), “become the key players in the worldwide marketplace of our time.” Levinson has produced a valuable book for business and economic historians interested in retailing, supply chains, and the ironies of antitrust policy. As a former editor for The Economist, furthermore, Levinson is particularly effective at translating challenging economic concepts into language that lay audiences and undergraduate students can grasp.

For the full review, see:
Hamilton, Shane. “The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America.” Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 3 (Sept. 2012): 818-19.
(Note: italics in original.)

The book under review is:
Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.

The Lichtenstein book mentioned is:
Lichtenstein, Nelson. The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. hb ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009.