BENTONVILLE, Ark., May 7 (UPI) -- "Hi, welcome to Walmart," a phrase rarely heard over the last few years, will make its return this summer after the world's largest retailer announced it will reinstate its "greeters" in an effort to make stores friendlier.
The Arkansas-based retailer had for years stationed an employee, often a senior citizen, at the main entrance to each of its locations to offer a friendly hello to customers arriving at one of the chain's 5,000-plus stores. The role, which began when founder Sam Walton heeded an employee's suggestion back in the 1980s, was changed in 2012, when Walmart repositioned the greeters to instead assist customers in other areas, including directing those cashing out to the checkout lanes with the shortest lines.
Some stores reported negative feedback from customers who relied on the greeters to point them in the right direction if they were looking for a specific item in the massive store.
Moving the greeters to a different area "made it harder for customers to find the greeters if they had a question or needed help, and it made it harder to welcome customers to the store," a spokesman for Walmart told NBC News.
"Customers have told us that the stores feel friendlier when there is someone at the door to say 'Hi and welcome them to Walmart,'" the spokesman said.
The company said in a blog post this week they instituted a pilot program at several stores that returned greeters and, in some instances, created a new position. Beginning this summer, the company will create about 9,000 jobs. Two-thirds will be the traditional senior-citizen "greeter" and the remainder will be "customer hosts" -- younger employees wearing bright yellow shirts, who will also handle security, check customer receipts and process purchase returns.
NBC reports the company loses about $3 billion annually to shoplifting, and the new "customer hosts" are an effort to cut down on theft.
"To help ensure each store has the coverage it needs, we're using data on safety, security and shrink risks to guide us on how best to staff our entrances," Walmart Executive Vice President for Operations Mark Ibbotson said in the post. "Where our data tells us the risk is higher, we'll add the new customer host. We expect to fill about 9,000 of these new hourly positions that are specially trained to both welcome customers as soon as they walk in and also help deter would-be shoplifters."