Walmart hires 100,000 to meet surging demand, as toilet paper and sewing machines fly off the shelves

Business

Walmart said it’s seen a surge in demand for hair color, beard trimmers and sewing machines as Americans stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic — and it’s still working hard to keep up with a spike in toilet paper sales.

The big-box retailer has hired more than 100,000 new workers over the past three weeks to help it keep shelves stocked and fulfill online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, Dan Bartlett, told CNBC’s Courtney Reagan

It announced on March 19 that it would look to fill 150,000 positions.

“We’ll easily hit the 150,000,” he said. “We’ll do an assessment to see if we need to do more.”

Bartlett said most of the jobs are temporary, but about 10% to 15% are permanent. He said many of Walmart’s new employees have come from hard-hit industries and are using the jobs to stay afloat “until their traditional jobs come back online.”

“People are keeping their eye on the horizon to see when industry and when the economy will crank back up,” he said. “But in the meantime, they’re providing a critical service, and we welcome them with open arms.”

Walmart is one of the retailers that’s seen an increase in sales as Americans have bought more groceries and household items. It is among the essential retailers that have stayed open as many businesses, from clothing stores to restaurants, have temporarily shuttered and laid off or furloughed hundreds of thousands of employees. 

In recent weeks, however, some essential retailers have said they’ve been hit by the pandemic. Costco Wholesale, which has had long lines and empty shelves, said Wednesday that sales slowed in late March as government orders kept people indoors and it restricted store traffic to allow for social distancing. Walgreens said same-store sales were up 26% in the first 21 days of March as people stocked up, but then foot traffic plummeted and same-store sales declined in the mid-teens the last week of the month. And Target warned its profits could fall as its customers buy less clothing and accessories.

On Thursday, Bartlett said Walmart is still seeing sustained demand — even for items such as toilet paper that people have been stockpiling. He said paper goods “are still under pressure.”

Walmart is selling enough toilet paper over a five-day period that every American could have their own roll, he said.

He said the retailer is seeing interesting changes in what people shop for, too.

“All the do-it-yourself types of items like hair coloring and beard trimmers are selling quite well,” he said. “Sewing machines are flying off the shelf as well because a lot of people are selling and making their own masks at their house.” 

He said Walmart has insights it can share with other companies to help employees and customers feel safe. For example, he said, it’s had to adopt new protocols to encourage customers to stay six feet apart.

“It’s not normal habits for people to shop that way, but we’re getting better every day,” he said. “Those types of lessons, which we’ll clearly share with policymakers and others, are the types of things I think all industries across different sectors are going to have to adopt themselves to give the confidence people need to come back to work.”

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