How To Get Good Service At A Chronically Understaffed Walmart

What should you know when you place an online order that you plan to pick up at your local Walmart store? An insider––an ordinary store employee in an ordinary Walmart––reached out to us to explain to customers what you should know before you click “Site-to-Store,” and other pitfalls. Walmart may employ millions of Americans, but it still tries to run stores with the smallest crew that it get by with.

Let’s hand the floor over to the employee, who we’ll call “Samantha”:

As an employee, I can tell you that it’s true; Walmart’s idea of saving money is by trying to do as much as possible with as few people as possible. As such, being (technically) understaffed is an inevitability. But here are a few ways that consumers can get the help they need. This may not be true for every store, and as I don’t work at a Super Center, I can’t speak entirely for them. But most of this is basic through and through stuff for the store.

1. Site to Store vs. Pick Up Today: The short version is that S2S ships from a warehouse somewhere far away from us, and pick-up today is an item we carry in store that we set aside for you. If the option is there for pick up today, USE IT. It will be set aside for you rather than taking 1-2 weeks to get to us from the warehouse. You can also call the store directly if there are issues.

2. Site to Store Primer: Walmart.com is actually a subsidiary of Walmart. Therefore, if there’s a problem with your order before it gets to the store, calling the store itself will solve nothing. We actually don’t get any information until the item gets to us. Ergo, if you’re wondering if your item has arrived, the answer will always be ‘no’ until you get the e-mail or text notification. I swear, nothing is more annoying than having to answer those questions. Also, all you need is your ID. In fact, it saves a step because we can look it up by your name. The only time I’d say to not do this is if you order stuff a LOT. Orders tend to stay in the system for a while after they’re picked up, and without the order number, you’ll be waiting for us to go through every single one individually until we find the right one. Same goes for more than one order.

3. Site to Store Returns: Please please PLEASE, if the item hasn’t [been used] yet and you want a refund, call them. I’m not sure how that works entirely, but what I do know is that if you return it to our register, and it’s not an item we carry (which is probably why you’re ordering it online), then we can’t always return it to the warehouse. We then get stuck with an item we can’t sell (due to it not being in our system), and usually it just ends up being a thorn in everyone’s side.

4. Regular Returns: I can’t stress this enough – please please PLEASE try to return items to the store you bought them from. As a regular store, we get a lot of Super Center returns which we don’t have space for or item info for. Not only is this a pain for us, it’s a pain for YOU – because if you find something that you like and it’s from a different store, when you get up to the register, it probably won’t show. This means you’ll have to wait until a manager or [Customer Service Manager, or CSM] can come over and figure it out.

5. How to Get Service: Since we’re so short staffed, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone walking around, especially in some areas (for us, food and stationary). Or, if you have a pick up in the back, you’ll find that pressing the ‘Need Assistance?’ thing on the credit card screen will take forever. That’s because it sends a notification to the CSM’s PDA. They then use their walkie (when they see it and aren’t busy) to let the phone area know (for us, the fitting room). If there happens to be a Claims person working, they’ll get it, but otherwise, we’ll have to page and wait for someone to go back there. By then, you’re waiting a good 10 minutes.

So what do you do? Two options: let them know at the customer service desk that you have a pick up. This means while you’re walking, the CSM is already letting someone know. Try not to dawdle; if the claims person is there, comes out, sees no one, then they’ll go back to whatever they’re doing. If you’re shopping, and this goes for general service too, then go to the fitting room. There is usually an attendant that is scheduled to be there or around there, and for us, there is someone around that area at all times to answer the phones. We have a walkie as well, so we can page or walkie for someone to help you. Speeds the process up dramatically.

6. Use Service Bells Sparingly: Some of our stations, like Jewelry and the Fabric counter, have bells. The people who work those areas are usually covering other areas as well. What I can’t stress enough is if you’re ringing the bell every second to half second, I can’t think of any of my coworkers who won’t ignore you until you stop. There are times where we just won’t page because you’re being rude and inconsiderate. People who don’t work in those departments have to listen to it, and it means nothing to them, and therefore it’s annoying. Ring the bell every 30 seconds or so before going to the closest area with an associate (like electronics or the fitting room). They can call to the phone center and have someone page, which is a LOT more efficient than ringing the bell.

7. Please be Considerate: This should go without saying, but if we don’t have something, please don’t get upset. Most of the time, we can call other stores to help you find things. If you’re rude, we probably won’t offer, because it takes a while and we don’t want to deal with that. Please try not to step on merchandise – it might seem like crappy stuff, but it makes a world of work for us when things get dirty and stained. Also, we’re humans with family, so please don’t call up to ask if we’re open on certain holidays (like Christmas) to ask when we’re open, and tell us it’s a “shame” when we’re not. Most of the time we’re open and miss holidays with our families to serve you, so let us have our days off.

8. Avoid Calling Without Proper Information: Here’s the thing – answering calls is at the bottom of pretty much everyone’s list. We do not have a magical computer system that can look up an item by name or description – however, if you can find a UPC for it (such as something you bought, or by finding it online), then the person on the phone can usually look it up right then and there. Sometimes our numbers are wrong, though, so it’s always good to check. But be aware that when you call, you’ll be on hold for a while. Not every department has a phone, and I can tell you that walking through areas, you’ll be stopped several times by customers. Basically, our motto at the fitting room is ‘The people who took the time to come in have priority over those who don’t’.

Also, knowing what you’re looking for exactly will make it a lot quicker. Don’t necessarily ask to just be transferred – we can ask questions to the managers over the intercom to help speed up the process. But still be succinct; I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be pressed by the company to answer all phone calls and listening to someone’s life story about trying to find this particular rug they bought 7 years ago when I have 2 other incoming calls.

9. Good times to Come In: Mornings are pretty slow but also have the thinnest staff usually. Their job is to finish the freight of third shift, so they’re usually busy with that. I’ve never worked an opening shift so I really can’t speak to that, but what I can tell you is to try to avoid coming right after work. From about 6-8, most of us second shifters are taking our lunches, which means a neighboring department will be covering for them. Their main focus, however, is going to be their department.

If you wait until about 8 or 9 to come in, usually everyone is back and it’s slowed down considerably. We’ll be free to help you without having to worry about getting our tasks done. While I’m not saying to come in 10 minutes before we close, coming in an hour before we do is about the best time that I can think of to help customers.

That’s all I can think of! Hopefully this will help some of you with actually getting the help you want at a store that really can’t/doesn’t provide it. As always, the reality of working a shitty retail job carries over; we’re under a lot of pressure from management to get a lot done in a little time, so hopefully this will help you meet us half-way.

Thanks for sharing, Samantha! Most people who have ever held a job can empathize with constant pressure to do more with less time and fewer resources.

We know that a lot of you have particular insights into jobs and businesses that most consumers don’t know much about, or about which they make huge assumptions. Do you want to share those insights with the Consumerist readership, potentially making their transactions smoother and your life easier? Send them to us at tips@consumerist.com.

Here are some previous installments in our “Employee Confessions” series:
Best Buy Employee: We’re Not Always Trying To Upsell You Credit Cards And Warranties
Bank Teller: If You Have No Patience And Don’t Listen, Why Should I Feel Sorry For You?
Bleak True Confessions From The Junk Mail Factory
Customer Service Rep: Consumers Need To Take More Responsibility For Their Problems
Don’t Assume All Customer Service Reps With Accents Are Overseas
Best Buy Employee: Pressure To Cram Credit Cards Down Customers’ Throats Now Intensifying