FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.—Walmart's (NYSE:WMT) annual shareholder meeting was a star-studded event as usual, but it was more than a celebration of sales growth and international expansion. This year's meeting was focused on employees and Walmart's future with digital technology.
It's common for the retailer to look back and celebrate its roots, and this year was no exception. But in the days prior to today's meeting, the company showcased new in-store solutions and mobile applications to expedite online orders, as well as new programs that offer expanded inventory online and in-store via mobile scanning and kiosks.
Walmart's annual shareholder meeting was star-studded, with host Reese Witherspoon, as well as Carol Burnett, Drew Barrymore and Mariah Carey in attendance. Many gave passionate speeches about what Walmart means to them and energized the 14,000 associates and attendees in the Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas.
But, credit might go more to management for energizing employees and investors.
A lot has happened in the year since Doug McMillon helmed his first shareholder meeting as Walmart's CEO, and the results have been positive on several fronts.
There has, for example, been a lot of progress creating a better work environment for employees: raising wages for many, giving store associates greater control over their schedules, lifting unpopular uniform requirements and offering ongoing education and training for store programs. Associates attending the meeting were given new badges this week that read "Our people make the difference," something Sam Walton put on the badge 30 years ago, according to Greg Foran, president of U.S. stores.
Stores are receiving some much needed attention with fresh merchandise, category resets and a return to Walmart's core values and everyday low prices. There's a focus on technology with new online ordering and pickup options rolling out in stores as test concepts expand.
"I want us to stop talking about digital and physical retail as if they're two separate things," McMillon said. "The customer doesn't think of it that way and we can't either."
Walmart added more than $9 billion in sales in its last fiscal year, reaching $482 billion with $27 billion in profit. The company added 500 new stores and Sam's Club locations.
And while McMillon is wary of competitors, including Amazon, he said Walmart is "threatened much more by the things we control than those outside our influence."
"Our real villains are things like bureaucracy, complacency, a lack of speed or a lack of passion," he said. "We're approaching this work with both urgency and determination. We're moving fast to exceed our customers' expectations while making purposeful choices that will position us for the long haul. This is a turning point in our story and the investments we're making today will set the date for strong and sustainable growth."
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