Each week, 100 million customers -- more than one-third of the U.S. population -- stream through Wal-Mart's doors. And to hear Eduardo Castro-Wright, the company's new chief executive officer of U.S. stores, tell it, those customers have been poorly served.
Stores don't have enough workers at the times shoppers need them most, particularly weekends, he has claimed, and merchandise hasn't been strategically selected to reflect customer demographics in individual neighborhoods. When he first arrived in the U.S. last year after leading Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Mexican division, he was shocked to learn that not one Wal-Mart store featured a machine for making tortillas, he recently told a Merrill Lynch & Co. analysts' conference. And don't get him started on the state of the women's bathrooms. . . .
Mr. Castro-Wright's job is to wring more productivity out of each store, increase sluggish sales at stores open more than a year and improve the store experience to appeal to a more sophisticated consumer. To that end, he has been overhauling the system for scheduling work shifts, tailoring each store's offerings to its clientele's tastes, improving the presentation of merchandise, and speeding up store remodeling. He is also getting ready to trim half the employees in each store's accounting office. (He told analysts they will be offered other jobs within the chain) . . . .
This month Wal-Mart is rolling out a new electronically driven pilot program for matching employees' work shifts more precisely with customer traffic patterns. Mr. Castro-Wright has said it will improve customer service markedly, but critics worry it could undermine morale because employees will have little say over what days and hours they work.
Wal-Mart executives have acknowledged that the retailer will also shift to a heavier reliance on part-time workers, who now account for roughly 20% of the work force, higher than the national average for retailers. A recent JP Morgan report said Wal-Mart plans to increase the ratio of its 1.2 million-member U.S. hourly work force on part-time schedules to 40% from 20%, meaning the hours of as many as 240,000 workers could be cut below 34 a week, the threshold to be considered full time. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams says the company has no "predetermined target."