And while all of the above represent relatively recent dynamics that McMillon must deal with, at least one thing hasn’t changed for Wal-Mart: its high-profile role as a corporate and even social bellwether. Everyone from its massive customer base to its 1.3 million U.S. employees to its restive shareholders to activists of every size and description still closely scrutinize every move Wal-Mart makes, and many remain more than ready to call out McMillon if they don’t like what he does.
Now McMillon has launched a number of initiatives aimed at helping Wal-Mart improve the top line, the bottom line or both. Because with the crucial Christmas-holiday season nearing, the competition is still intensifying for the retailing dollar that American consumers remain reticent to use in an era of sluggish income growth even while the U.S. economy finally seems to be recovering.
McMillon’s newest gambits include just-announced plans to eliminate health-insurance coverage for some of its part-time U.S. employees because of rising costs and the particulars of Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act requires major employers to offer health-care insurance to all workers who toil at least 30 hours a week, which has prompted many of them —already including Target and Home Depot—to make a move similar to Wal-Mart’s.
Wal-Mart will discontinue existing coverage on January 1 for employees who work less than 30 hours a week, who comprise about 2 percent of the company’s American employees. In addition to the new burdens brought by Obamacare and how health insurers and other marketplace constituencies have reacted to it, Walmart has been facing generally rising health-care costs.