David Welch
Bloomberg News

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will begin moving greeters into its stores from the lobbies, ending a long tradition of having customers see employees as soon as they enter the building.

The greeters will be moved near the cash registers to direct shoppers to products or shorter checkout lines, said David Tovar, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company.

Wal-Mart has used greeters since 1980, when founder Sam Walton decided they would make his low-price stores friendly and welcoming.

During the past six months, Wal-Mart reassigned greeters at its 3,000 U.S. supercenters from the third shift, which has a schedule from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The company has been looking for ways to increase productivity and save money.

Greeters at different stores have been told they will be reassigned, said Janna Pea, a campaign specialist with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which assists a group of employees called Organization United for Respect at Walmart.

Jerome Allen, a greeter in Fort Worth, Texas, said he was told he would be moved inside the store in February. He will be asked to direct customers around the store instead of greeting them up front.

“They said we won’t be people greeters anymore,” Allen said in a phone interview. “We will be in the store helping people.”

Tovar said Wal-Mart is making the move to improve customer service. The employees still will be able to greet customers. They also can help people find products and direct them to an open register or a shorter line, he said.

“It’s a better position inside the store,” Tovar said. “The greeters will be able to assist customers in more effective ways. Whether they are coming in the door or are 15 feet away, they will still be able to greet people.”