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About 14,000 stakeholders from around the world converge at the Bud Walton Arena for Wal-Mart’s annual meeting to hear the new CEO’s plans for the company in a tough global economy.

Wal-Mart moves reflect shifting needs

CEO frames plans in tough global economy

Associated Press photos
Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., outlines for shareholders the changes being made by the world’s largest retailer in response to shifting consumer habits.

– Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said the world’s largest retailer’s task is to more quickly bring e-commerce together with physical stores to better serve shoppers.

At Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s annual shareholders meeting Friday, McMillon talked about a service that Wal-Mart offers at its Asda.com website in the U.K., where customers can order groceries online and then pick them up from trucks at various pickup points. He also showed off miniature figures of executives to illustrate how some Wal-Mart stores have been using 3-D printers to create miniature figurines for customers in the U.K.

“Our purpose of saving people money will always be relevant, but we’ll do it in new ways,” said McMillon, a 23-year Wal-Mart veteran who took over as CEO in February. “We need to be at the forefront of innovation and technology.”

McMillon’s remarks come at a time when the retailer is addressing concerns over its declining sales and business practices at home and overseas. About 14,000 Wal-Mart workers around the world attended the meeting, which – as usual – had celebrity entertainment: Harry Connick Jr. was master of ceremonies, and Pharrell and Robin Thicke performed.

Despite the festivities, Wal-Mart is under scrutiny. Revenue at established Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. has declined for five consecutive quarters. The number of customers has also fallen for six quarters in a row at the division, which accounts for 60 percent of the company’s total sales.

Like many other retailers that cater to working-class Americans, Wal-Mart has been hurt by an uneven economic recovery that has benefited well-heeled shoppers more than those in the lower-income rungs. Moreover, shoppers are increasingly looking for lower prices at online rivals such as Amazon.com and at dollar chains and pharmacies.

In response, Wal-Mart is opening more small stores, such as Walmart Express and Neighborhood Markets. It’s pushing online grocery services. It’s also adding money transfers and other services to cater to low-income shoppers. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has more than tripled the number of items it sells online to more than 7 million from 2 million just 18 months ago.

At the same time, Wal-Mart’s critics argue that its workers’ wages are skimpy. The issue came up at Friday’s meeting when one worker, Charmaine Givens-Thomas, introduced a shareholder proposal for an independent chairman.

“Something is wrong when the richest family in America pays hundreds of thousands of workers so little that they cannot survive without public assistance,” she said.

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