What It's Like To Be... A Walmart Greeter

'At Walmart, everyone is always standing,' says the spry greeter

What It's Like To Be... A Walmart Greeter
Video by Mariya Pylayev

Walmart has more workers than European countries like Latvia, Macedonia and Slovenia have people. But what's it really like to be one of the 2.2. million associates employed by the retail giant?

"At Walmart, everyone is always standing," said Thirumang "Venke" Venkatraman, the face of the Walmart in Kearny, N.J. Venkatraman is a Walmart greeter and recently spoke to AOL Jobs about his working life during one of his shifts. (The company's communications department hand-picked the greeter and made him available to AOL Jobs.) His job description asks him to provide a sunny disposition to welcome customers, and perhaps more crucially, cross-check customers' receipts as they leave the store. In total, there are four greeters at his Walmart with two on duty at any time, he said. That means these workers are responsible for overseeing traffic at a store that measures a total of 172,000 square feet.

Mariya Pylayev/AOL
Not surprisingly, Venkatraman said it's paramount for a Walmart greeter to "have it in their nature to love people." And an afternoon with Venkatraman made it clear he has such a quality in spades. At 72, the greeter is spry, bouncing around the Walmart entrance with the enthusiasm of a child at a candy store. And in his interview, he agreed the job aligns with his personality; Venkatraman is a native of Chennai, India, where he often spent time as a hiker so he could chat with others hiking through the Himalaya mountains. (A licensed accountant in India, Venkatraman said he came to New Jersey 25 years ago to first work in the Diamond industry in Manhattan.)

"Venke" said he doesn't form regular relationships with his customers, but there are familiar faces. They often come to him to "talk to me about their problems;" he's often told about "deaths in the family," and other heartaches. Or he's told about "rude checkout workers," and in some instances he passes along word to Walmart supervisors. But his work requires no prep time, other than "arriving pleasant, and leaving my problems at home."

How does he fight the boredom?

"Venke" said he's a "spiritual person," and during down time he turns to his notebook of devotional songs to privately chant the songs, many of which are inspired by Hindu saints. Is it tiring greeting people in seven-hour shifts? "Venke" exercises regularly, and so he rarely tires on the job, he said. Sometimes the police even stand side-by-side with the greeters, but they don't always have the endurance to actually last as long as he does, he noted.

As for his schedule, he works the 3-to-10 pm shift four or five days a week, and makes $12.14 an hour. The salary goes up every year he stays on the job. He's a part-time worker, having scaled back from full-time work so he could complete his MBA online with the University of Phoenix. (His favorite reference for business models while in graduate school? Sam Walton and his creation of the Walmart behemoth, of course.) He also took time to self-publish a book back in 2008 entitled, "Discovery of Spiritual India."

With many Walmart workers clamoring for greater rights and higher wages, Venkatraman had no comment on Walmart's pay scale or the labor activism. But he said "if an associate wants to be dissatisfied then the associate can be dissatisfied on the very first day at Walmart. But if you want to try, there's quite a lot of things that can be done." As an example, he said a colleague got help with paying for student fees while studying to become a social worker. But he said most associates need a second or third job to survive.
Mariya Pylayev/AOLThe spiritual songs that keep Venkatraman going during any downtime.
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The 'last resort' for theft protection

According to Venkatraman, there's a dark side to the greeter job. "Walmart has great surveillance, but we are expected to protect property assets," he said. "We are the last resort." Indeed, he said he regularly has to confront challenges that force him to stand up to a thief or in the worst of circumstances, put himself in harm's way.

Just a few days before his interview, he said he had such a problem while cross-checking a customer's receipt. He noticed a very large music-recording device in a man's shopping cart wasn't mentioned on his receipt. And so he asked him, "Where is it?" After the customer feigned ignorance, Venkatraman continued pressing him -- "where is it?" -- until the customer finally agreed to put aside the recording device. The customer then then walked out of the store.

The altercations don't always end so peacefully. Recently, Venkatraman said he was assaulted by a customer as she was leaving the store. She violently pushed him aside, he said, after he asked her for a receipt. The police were then called in to control the woman. In fact, he added, it's not uncommon for the police to be called in to break up fights between customers, among other problems. Indeed, about eight months ago Walmart management asked its greeters to no longer walk through the store during their workday and focus on the entrance and exit so they could watch over "company assets," he said.

Mariya Pylayev/AOLVenkatraman's uniform.
When problems escalate, "Walmart provides full support," he said. But when he's had to give statements to the police, like the receipt-woman altercation, it's really no problem, he said. After he spoke to the police, he didn't have to deal with it again. "The legal team at Walmart just took care of it," he said.

What's the best part of the job?

"The peer recognition." He was chosen as associate of the month at his Walmart in September.

The worst part?

"The job part of the job."

How much can you expect to be making one year in?

Around $9 an hour.

Five years in?

"It goes up. Eight years in, I am making $12.14 an hour."
Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

Follow Dan on Twitter. Email Dan at daniel.fastenberg@teamaol.com. Add Dan to your Google+ circles.

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19 Comments

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blo2thehead

Nobody gets a watch after 30 years of loyalty anyway.

January 19 2014 at 4:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard

Rochester NH super WM is losing a LOT of business by not opening registers. I have spoke with staff on several occasions. Beginning this week, I and others will not only continue to shop at WM but have a time limit on how long we will tollerate standing in line. Sorry Rochester WM, you will hire people to put away our goods.

If people want to complain about working at WM, they need to leave and bad carma needs to be eliminated from the facility. I will work at WM for minimum wage and smile as if I mean it because I do. I seriously hope that people smarten up to realize that the clock must be reversed in order for this country to POSSIBLY survive.

January 16 2014 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Courtney

Depends on where you live - all 4 Wal-Marts in my town employ greeters.

January 16 2014 at 10:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
stevechambers2

In my town Wal Mart has cut so many Associate job's thieves can easily walk out what they want.Last time I was there there was no associates on the floor,over 100 people with full buggies,40 checkouts with only 4 open.I found the Manager to ask what is she going to do she turned her back to me without saying anything and begin walking away so I yelled the question to her again.She said for me to check out at Customer Service.I walked back and forth in front of the registers yelling "Everyone leave your buggies full where you are and let's all leave"I did this 3 times knowing people had been in line for almost a hour trying to checkout.Only a hand full of Customers walked out.Every person there should have left that store with 100 buggies full of food and products.We Americans will not do this for some reason have we become cowards or just to lazy to shop somewhere else?I did see this happen one town down.There where full buggies filling the aisles and at Customer Service.Wal Mart has taken over all stores leaving towns all across America empty of any competition.We need more Costco's and other big chain stores built in towns to give Wal Mart some competition!

January 15 2014 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to stevechambers2's comment
gmgpjandon

No Steve, Americans haven't became cowards, just dumbed down for the last fifty years. They're getting just what they deserve. If one doesn't believe in something, they'll fall for anything.

January 16 2014 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
divakar s natarajan

Proud to say, Venkie is my uncle.

A graduate of pure mathematics, a qualified professional accountant and a great organiser, he was a pioneering Himalayan mountaineer .
THE HANUMAN EXPEDITION http://www.himalayanclub.org/journal/the-hanuman-expedition/

His father, my grandfather, Shri T S Swaminathan was a freedom fighter, a gandhian and one of the most respected accounting professionals of independent India.

The Prithvi connection http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/the-prithvi-connection/article643733.ece

His grand father, Shri FG Natesa Iyer, was a cultural institution of his time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._G._Natesa_Iyer

As a trekker in the Himalayas, my uncle has always been moved by the spiritual traditions of India.

A gentle humanist, he can , if the occasion demands, be firm

I am glad that he is comfortable in his current occupation.

I would be gladder if his management would keep him away from harm.

Thank you, Dan for discovering this hidden gem at Walmart.

December 03 2013 at 12:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kay

At the local Walmart that I usually shop at, they did away with the greeter. The one lady who most often was working when I went there to shop was very nice and friendly also. Then they moved her to a different department. One day I was seated on a bench near the entrance, waiting for an amigo when this lady came around the corner from HBA with an amigo. She saw me waiting and knew this amigo was sitting in HBA for some time so she brought it to me to use. She is still at the store but now that they again have greeters she has not gone back to that job. I suspect that the reason for bringing back the greeters at this store is because of so many trying to steal things. And not with the holidays it will become much worse.

November 29 2013 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dsahfreeman

He is working to help himself...some only want a handout.

November 29 2013 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Devel Dog

Did anyone who has left comments the article? He went part time to go back to school to get his MBA, even though part time still has medical coverage, which by the way is better than obama care. In 6 years he will actually be making closer to $17 an hour plus his quarterly bonus if went back to full time, it was his decision to go part time.. It would be really accurate if people would not make assumptions and researched before opening there mouth and making a fool of them selves.......

November 29 2013 at 8:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
leavesbound

Ok I'll admit I didn't bother to read this story but I thought Walmart did away with people greeters a couple of years ago. The ones near me don't have greeters any more.

November 29 2013 at 7:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to leavesbound's comment
Robert Urie

Walmart did do away with greeters approx 2 yeas ago.

November 29 2013 at 12:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert Urie's comment
Kay

But now at certain stores the greeters are back. I suspect it is the stores that have the most theft going on. In the one near city both Walmarts have greeters who also watch what leaves. In a near by city they do not have greeters, and from what I have been told by someone I know who works there, they do not have a lot of stealing going on.

November 29 2013 at 12:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
raptureready1958

There is more to talk about out there than walmart already. This is getting really stupid now.

November 29 2013 at 7:07 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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