Walmart has recently debuted a smartphone app for its associates, and according to an AP wire story the company has pledged to give more than 740,000 store workers a new Samsung phone for free by the end fo the year. The company has stated that their goal is to make the workers’ jobs easier, and to serve customers better. It’s undoubtedly also their hope that this move will help them attract employees, since the phones will be available for personal use on breaks and outside of work hours.

Independent retailers are not going to be able to match this offer, of course. But it’s interesting to see what the new app can do, and to think about whether these are functions we’d like to automate. A number of online scheduling tools are already on the market, and other apps for retailers are likely to follow Walmart’s rollout.

Me@Walmart, which the company says was developed with feedback from Walmart associates, allows staff members to digitally clock in and out. In addition, after going through a two-step verification process, users can access the following features:

1. Scheduling: Staff members can schedule their shifts, manage all time-off requests, and swap or pick up unfilled shifts.

2. Ask Sam: A search/voice assistant to help answer questions related to products, metrics, and more. This is intended to make customer service go more smoothly, with the ability to check inventory and prices, scan products, and review sales data.

3. My Team: A roster view of who is working at the time, with an in-app “push to talk” walkie-talkie feature to stay connected to other sales associates and team members.

4. The Inbox: Notifications and Actions for scheduling, time-off and more.

Another component of the app is that potential employees can download it to “learn about and apply for a career with Walmart.” Me@Walmart features Walmart history, cultural values and benefits.

The new app is not without its glitches, and in fact it has a 3.4 star rating (out of 5) so far. It looks like automating scheduling is something to be done very cautiously, because instead of increasing employee efficiency you could end up with disgruntled staff members. But with more of our workforce – and customers – tied to their smartphones, there is undoubtedly at least one app in the future of many independent retailers.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder