Coronavirus: How Walmart India Best Price stores operated during lockdown despite multiple challenges
Coronavirus, which has restricted the movement of people and materials, has also created several challenges for businesses.
However, some managed to stay ahead in their game by simply being alert and agile. Take global retail giant Walmart, for example, which has been present in India since 2007.
The company, which operates its wholesale cash-and-carry stores across nine states, took several proactive steps to maintain business continuity along with safety standards amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sameer Aggarwal, CEO of Best Price, Walmart India
Walmart India owns and operates 28 wholesale stores under the brand name Best Price, and two fulfilment centres with more than one million members. Under its umbrella resides a whole ecosystem comprising resellers or kirana stores, suppliers, farmers, and its own employees.
Sameer Aggarwal, CEO of Best Price, Walmart India, spoke to YourStory about these measures the company undertook to ensure an uninterrupted supply of essentials to customers without compromising on safety.
Edited excerpts below:
YourStory (YS): How is Walmart India dealing with the COVID-19 challenge and keeping the Best Price outlets operational?
Sameer Aggarwal (SA): Walmart India operates large-format wholesale cash-and-carry stores and fulfilment centres in nine states. Our first and foremost priority during this crisis has been to create a safe and hygienic environment in our stores for our associates and members.
We marked the floors of our Best Price stores with yellow stripes and boxes to designate enough space for each member to maintain a safe distance from each other. Additionally, in stores, we ensured the entry of only one person per membership card to ensure social distancing. We also brought down the number of associates working in the store as per directives from local authorities.
Walmart India has given masks and gloves to all associates and has deployed hand washing stations at the entry of stores, as well as multiple hand sanitiser stations across each store. The stores are also equipped with contactless thermometers to conduct temperature checks. High-touch surfaces of our stores are being regularly sanitised and cleaned with disinfectant.
YS: In an environment of restricted movement, how is Walmart India fulfilling the needs of the resellers or kirana stores?
SA: Walmart India serves over one million members in India and kiranas are our biggest customer segment.
We have been working hard to ensure the smooth supply of essentials to kiranas during the lockdown. There have been some challenges in securing sufficient supplies from manufacturers and in transportation, but these were urgently resolved by working closely with our suppliers and with the local authorities.
We also ramped up new product development in our private brands segment and fast-tracked commercialisation of products such as sanitisers, liquid washes, and bulk packets of staples. This ensured that our members have sufficient stocks to provide essential items to the community.
For example, we launched our private label Great Value Hand Rub Aqua within seven days. This speedy execution was possible thanks to our MSME supplier who had the hand rub pre-tested and got the formulation approved by the regulator.
We also accelerated the rollout of our new app and website to make it possible for more members to place orders. Our delivery capacity was significantly enhanced in all locations to ensure we can deliver products to the kiranas whose owners were unable to travel to our stores.
YS: Given the lockdown across the country and the challenges of maintaining the supply chain network, how is Walmart India ensuring the supply of essentials?
SA: We worked closely with our supplier partners and local authorities to ensure challenges in the supply chain were addressed urgently. We managed to maintain healthy stock levels of all essential commodities for our members in this time of need.
We are particularly grateful to our store associates who are selflessly serving the community at this time by keeping our shelves well-stocked and enabling significantly higher volumes of online orders being delivered to our members.
We are providing every field associate with an appreciation allowance over and above their pay for every day of attendance during the lockdown period. We are also ensuring safe transport for them to stores and providing conveyance reimbursement in the absence of local public transport.
We are also grateful to our delivery partners who ramped up capacity to ensure our members’ orders could be fulfilled. This would also not have been possible without the support of local authorities in issuing passes and making it safe for our associates to come to stores and for delivery vehicles to deliver orders.
YS: What has been the engagement of Walmart India with farmers who have to face twin obstacles of lesser demand and difficulties in procurement?
SA: Walmart India is committed to the growth of the farmer community in India. Our stores across locations such as Kota, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, Ludhiana, and Raipur continue to procure produce such as onions, mangoes, watermelons, and other fruits and vegetables, to support small farmers.
We are working towards realising our goal of sourcing 25 percent of the produce sold across all Best Price stores directly from farmers by 2023.
In line with this earlier stated goal, we plan to support farmer organisations to develop knowledge of sustainable farming practices, share business best practices, add value to primary agricultural commodities, and improve access to finance and markets. This will help farmer incomes grow and create new business opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
YS: How is Walmart India keeping itself safe given the high-touch environment and close interaction nature of retail trade?
SA: We anticipated work from home prior to the announcement of lockdown. We enforced a work from home policy from March 15, 2020, after doing a pilot run on March 13, 2020. This test run helped us be prepared to carry out all corporate office activities remotely in an efficient way. All new associate orientation and onboarding activities are being conducted online.
We issued laptops, virtual desktop interface, data cards, and educated associates on VPN functionality, and Zoom and other digital tools to enable remote working.
To minimise traffic on streets and in our stores, we are encouraging our members to place orders on our ecommerce platform and have the products delivered to them. We are seeing increased number of orders through ecommerce and have added more capacity to serve orders placed on the Best Price website and app.
Through the recently revamped Best Price app, members can track orders, keep records of their invoices, and get notifications on the availability of the stock and prices on a real-time basis.
We have also onboarded additional delivery partners to manage increased volumes. Our delivery team is equipped with personal protective equipment such as masks, hand sanitisers, and gloves and delivery vehicles are disinfected prior to loading.
We are also working with the authorities to ensure our delivery vehicles get passes to fulfil orders in time. We are committed to serving our members and the community at this time.