Walmart Hopes ‘Gamification’ Can Engage Employees and Turn Things Around

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There can be a lot of stress associated with working at Walmart these days: Financial results aren’t improving, and there are a lot of haters, such as critics of the chain’s strategy for improving working conditions at factories in Bangladesh that supply Walmart garments.

Good thing that Walmart employees have a new way to engage themselves more productively in their work: “gamification.” In a move that echoes what other major employers are doing, the nation’s largest retailer is working with a Boston-based marketing and consulting organization to improve more of its internal processes by lending them a digital-gaming aspect. In turn, greater “employee engagement” is supposed to lead to improving the experiences of Walmart customers.

Walmart executive Kurt Templeton, director of workforce planning, and executives of Inward Strategic Consulting were presenting their findings on the effectiveness of gamification at a Conference Board gathering this week in Chicago.[more]

“Gamification is a form of learning and engagement using games that leverage people’s natural desire for competition, achievement, status and rewards,” said Whitney Cook, account manager at Inward, in a press release. Often, social media including Facebook and Twitter play a role in the games. There was no immediate word on exactly what kinds of games Walmart invites its staffers to play to gain their greater engagement and effectiveness, nor whether gamification is aimed just at managers or also includes rank-and-file Walmart workers.

In any event, investors weren’t playing games with Walmart stock this week after the retailer reported quarterly results that missed analysts’ expectations, citing general factors including a cold spring selling season and late tax refunds. Same-store sales for Walmart in the US dropped for the first time since the summer of 2011, declining by 1.4 percent against Walmart’s projection that sales would be about flat. Visits to stores also fell by 1.8 percent in the quarter.

“We didn’t have the first-quarter performance we wanted,” CEO Michael Duke said in a statement. And as far as the current quarter is concerned, Walmart executives not surprisingly said that US consumers are “still stretched” largely because of employment challenges in the sluggishly recovering American economy.

Walmart has been modifying its strategy to address the middling financial circumstances of its core low- and middle-income clientele, including introducing smaller and less-expensive products. Also, aggressive pricing on groceries, backed with local market-basket price-comparison ads on TV and radio, are beginning to produce positive results, as Advertising Age reported. Simon said that Walmart will expand the approach to 70 percent of its US markets from 60 percent.

Big investments in e-commerce and related digital and social-media technology also are paying off, the magazine said. Walmart’s e-commerce sales rose more than 30 percent last quarter, ahead of rival Amazon’s 22 percent growth.

The company is also experimenting with small-format stores on college campuses, including the newly opened Walmart on Campus at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. The first Walmart on Campus opened in the retailer’s home state, at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., two years ago.

Walmart has gotten plenty of criticism from some constituencies for its announcement this week that it won’t join a broad factory-safety plan supported by H&M and other large retailers and will instead pursue its own inspection plan. But Walmart executives this week said that the chain’s beleaguered American customers generally aren’t engaged in handwringing over the Bangladesh situation. “We haven’t had much feedback from our customers on Bangladesh,” one told reporters in a conference call.

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