Wal-Mart has grown in over 40 years to be the leading retail chair across the United States from only a few stores in its inception to a several in countless towns today. Wal-Mart has forged an image built upon three guiding principles. Those principles include “Respect, the individual,” “Service to our customers,” and “Strive for Excellence” (Wal-Mart.com).
The company has recently invested in technology to improve the shopping experience for every customer by installing self-checkouts. A popular retail tool that can help customers beat the traditional checkout lines, and be back to their important tasks in no time.
The focus on the lowest prices and faster, more efficient shopping has definitely driven Wal-Mart to incredible heights. However, new technology may help Wal-Mart to gain greater focus on what the customer needs, before they get to the checkout line.
Implementing wireless networks into Wal-Mart stores will help store associates have more tools at their disposal to serve customers and make the whole shopping experience streamlined and enjoyable.
This is where two of those guiding principles support the need for this technological improvement including:
Service to Our Customers
“We’re nothing without our customers. We make sure their hard-earned dollars stretch further by offering quality merchandise at the lowest prices and with the best customer service possible.” (Wal-Mart.com)
Strive for Excellence
“New ideas and goals make us reach further than ever. We try to find innovative ways to push boundaries and constantly improve.” (Wal-Mart.com)
Wal-Mart can look to other retail stores for innovative technologies to improve their customer relations, as well as streamline inventory and receiving efforts. This innovation will be based on new wireless network connections that will provide connectivity between stores among store associates and with employees.
A quick definition explains wireless networks, particularly a local area network (LAN) as, “the linking of two or more computers without using wires. It is the same as LAN, but has a wireless interface. WLAN utilizes spread-spectrum technology based on radio waves to enable communication between devices in a limited area, also known as the basic service set. This gives users the mobility to move around within a broad coverage area and still be connected to the network.” (www.Wikipedia.com)
Proponents of wireless networks have given the benefits an acronym. CAMP means “convenience, affordability, mobility and productivity”. These four traits support why this new technology could benefit Wal-Mart. At a comparatively small cost, Wal-Mart stores will be able to utilize connections between neighboring stores and between employees on the ground floor.
Wireless Network Basics
“A wireless network uses radio waves, just like cell phones, televisions and radios do. In fact, communication across a wireless network is a lot like two-way radio communication. Here’s what happens:
1. A computer’s wireless adapter translates data into a radio signal and transmits it using an antenna.
2. A wireless router receives the signal and decodes it. It sends the information to the Internet using a physical, wired Ethernet connection.
The process also works in reverse, with the router receiving information from the Internet, translating it into a radio signal and sending it to the computer’s wireless adapter.” (How WiFi Works)
The most important benefit of a wireless network for Wal-Mart will be within its scalability, or the systems ability to be configured to meet a variety of needs for specific applications, software and hardware. These configurations can be changed, expanded to include multiple users, or scaled back for just a few. These users will have these abilities across a wide area, more than sufficient to cover the floor and back room of one of Wal-Mart’s stores.
Of the few negative aspects with wireless networks, security and transmission speeds are specific problems. With wireless transmissions, the information can move slower than a traditional network, however the mobility is an essential element for Wal-Mart to choose to go wireless, and the less efficient speed can be accounted for.
Security is a much more egregious problem. Inventory numbers and product information will be the main content, but any tampering with this information could create accounting errors or other problems that are less than desirable. Increased security measures would be necessary and would be required with any computer or network advancement, wireless or traditional.
The wireless networks would be set in place to provide employees an easier way to check on inventory questions for customers. No longer will an employee need to “check the back room” when they have the ability to use a station, or even a handheld device to check on the status of the product in question. Other retail stores have been able to check on the status of products in their own store, as well as offer alternative stores in the area that have the product on stock. Wal-Mart does not have a simple and effective method for this in the way that some of its competitors do.
Fortunately, the network will provide other tools that can improve the communication possibilities between stores and employees, and even improve product-ordering practices. The networks will be based in the store’s stock room and be the content will be product intensive, with any employee being able to tell how many, what kind, how much, and so forth on any product.
The wireless networks will bring Wal-Mart’s customer service into the 21st century. Another step in the stride for excellence.
Implementing Change: An Effective Leader
An effective leader will be able to implement this proposed technology by ensuring the training and use of this technology is sufficient in ensuring the employee’s master of the tools now available.
Most importantly, the leader, in this case store managers and department managers must be proficient with the technology themselves. They must understand everything the technology can be used for and ensure their employees are utilizing the tools in an effort to provide improved customer service.
The most effective leader is able to support their employees as well as support the new company measures. It is a very important balance.
Wal-Mart leaders are unfortunately faced with problems like high turnover rates and a very fast-paced retail environment. New employees are trained quickly, with most training being done on the floor and in the middle of the action. It is absolutely necessary for a Wal-Mart leader to be able to multi-task effectively. They must be able to learn how to use these tools while simultaneously performing their established job functions, and hopefully providing the example that will push store associates to strive for the excellence that Sam Walton spoke so much of.
Several tenets of change management that encourage a leader to successfully implement change, regardless of the technology include:
1. Communication – Never to be underestimated. The most important thing any leader can do is effectively communicate with employees, upper management, and most important of all, the customer.
2. Commitment – Employees can tell when a leader is not completely supportive of a new initiative. Commitment to the plan creates confidence in employees and helps them to commit as well.
3. Support – Even if an employee is committed to the change, they may have some reservations about the new process, or may have trouble changing to new processes and using new tools. An effective leader is supportive and is able to provide to an employee what they need to feel comfortable and do their job to the best of their ability.
4. Problem Solver – When the technology fails (as it most surely will at some point) the leader must have the ability to put out the fire. Rally troops and keep the customer in mind, because the customer will not care that your computer is broken.
These are just a few of the traits an effective leader will need when implementing changes, technologies, or just working day to day. In the Wal-Mart environment, a true leader will have developed these strengths quickly. They are necessary for survival in a retail environment.