Walmart Tries Out a New Scheduling System

Walmart Tries Out a New Scheduling System

In response to persistent calls from employees for more predictable hours, and in order to improve customer service, Walmart is piloting a new version of its scheduling software designed to better predict customer traffic, Reuters reports:

The system, called Customer First Scheduling, was launched in all of Wal-Mart’s 650 small-format Neighborhood Markets in the last week of July with plans to eventually roll it out across the entire U.S. store network, although the company gave no timeframe. …

The electronic system can prioritize scheduling for peak shopping hours by taking into account foot traffic and sales data from every department in each store. Staff are then allocated to the remaining shifts in order of importance. Wal-Mart began last year to try and improve customer service with faster checkouts and better-stocked shelves. The new system also aims to give employees more certainty over shifts and should cut down on the need to schedule employees on short notice. …

The new system allows some workers to have a fixed schedule with the same hours and days for up to six months. Those with unfixed schedules will only be slotted to work when they say they are available and will not be expected to be available on short notice. Currently, Wal-Mart managers allocate hours within the times employees say they are available to work.

The change has been in the works for some time, the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Nussauer observes:

In 2014 Wal-Mart announced plans to raise the minimum wage for store employees. At that time it said it would give some employees fixed schedules by this year. [Executive vice president of central operations Mark] Ibbotson said it’s too soon to know how many workers will move to 6 month fixed schedules using the new program. … Wal-Mart doesn’t use on-call scheduling, a system that is widespread in retail in which employees are told to come to work or stay home with little notice. But in Wal-Mart’s case, employees fear that if they limit their available hours, they won’t be given enough shifts, said Dan Schlademan, co-director of Our Walmart, an employee advocacy group.

As the country’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart can set the tone for the industry with any changes it makes. When it announced in 2014 it would raise the minimum wage for store employees, other retailers followed suit, including Target Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Walmart was also an early mover in this year’s trend of large enterprises raising wages for their lowest-paid employees. Scheduling is shaping up to be the next point of conflict between hourly retail workers and the organizations that employ them: Starbucks’ recent announcement that it was raising wages for store employees included a pledge from its CEO to reform scheduling practices that some employees say leave many of them underemployed, while some REI employees’ enthusiasm over a round of cost-of-living raises were dampened over lingering concerns over insufficient hours.