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Walmart meeting highlights: Recession prep, ChatGPT, Shania Twain, Snoop Dogg, and more

On Wednesday, Walmart (WMT) held its annual shareholders meeting where thousands, virtually and in-person, tuned in to hear about the state of the nation's largest company, which produces annual sales of some $611 billion worldwide and employs some 2.1 million workers or, as it calls them, associates.

Here are some key highlights:

Recession? Walmart execs are preparing.

CFO John David Rainey called the practice "part of our normal planning process" in a Q&A during the shareholder's meeting, saying, "We consider a range of possibilities, economic environment."

"We want to make sure that we are addressing not only the need to maximize revenue and profits but also looking at our balance sheet as well, making sure that we have access to capital at the lowest possible cost, which we did when we entered the market earlier this year," he added.

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Why the concern? "Consumer wallets are squeezed and that's affecting...what they're purchasing," said Rainey.

Price-cutting: CEO Doug McMillon told shareholders that some relief may be on the way for its customers. To keep ahead of the competition, Walmart aims to cut prices in an environment where mega companies have been accused of over-charging to jack up profits.

Said the CEO: Walmart is "trying to work hard right now, as we have been for quite some time now, with our suppliers to get our prices down." McMillon was bullish, though: "We think the company's positioned to succeed regardless of the environment."

So far so good. Compared to a year ago, Walmart stock is up more than 14%.

Customer obsessed, tech obsessed: "At the end of it, all, we are a tech company, but we are not a traditional tech company. We are here to solve real problems for real people," said Anshu Bhardwaj, Walmart's senior vice president of technology strategy and commercialization.

AI, or artificial intelligence, is a big area of emphasis — and investment. Walmart, for instance, is testing a conversation platform, nicknamed "Converse," to answer product-related questions on its website. In other words, a "dedicated shopping assistant."

For example, a shopper can say, "I'm interested in looking for a cell phone for a 10-year-old," then chatGPT will unveil four criteria when buying a cell phone for a 10-year-old, such as safety and parental controls. Then, once the shopper places the phone in its basket, the shopping assistant will ask if they also want a durable case.

Converse was introduced back in 2020, but the world is more aware of it now thanks to ChatGPT, which Cheryl Ainoa, Walmart's EVP of new businesses and emerging tech, called a "tipping point." She added: "The reason is it brought the ability to engage with the AI to anybody. You don't have to have a data science degree."

Bhardwaj said the question employees are asking is, "How can I make my job easier [with AI] and apply that across the entire company?"

Walmart's wholesale retailer Sam's Club uses the Converse tool for its AI digital assistant, "Ask Sam," which allows employees to ask questions and translate languages, among other tools.

No dice: There were nine shareholder proposals — they all failed. The proposals ranged from a "Communist China Risk Audit" and limiting contributions made by Walmart's PAC to requesting a "Racial and Gender Layoff Diversity Report."

Walmart Executives Anshu Bhardwaj, Walmart's VP, Technology Strategy & Commercialization (left) and Cheryl Ainoa, New Businesses and Emerging Tech EVP (right) break down how the company is using AI on the Walmart website. (Photo taken by Brooke DiPalma/Yahoo Finance)
Walmart Executives Anshu Bhardwaj, Walmart's VP, Technology Strategy & Commercialization (left) and Cheryl Ainoa, New Businesses and Emerging Tech EVP (right) break down how the company is using AI on the Walmart website. (Photo: Brooke DiPalma/Yahoo Finance)

Eyebrow-raising raises: The company's roughly 3,700 pharmacists will now have an average annual salary of $140,000 or so. This is on top of raises that took place last year. Based on Indeed data, the current professional average is approximately $118,081 per year. Walmart also raised pay for more than 4,000 opticians, with expectations for the average wage to be $22.50 an hour. No additional details were provided.

Health: Walmart is heavily investing in its Health and Wellness business. By the end of 2024, Walmart will have more than 75 health centers in the US in states including Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, and Florida.

Walmart introduced new packaging, moving away from plastic mailers as it boosts itself as an omnichannel network. From left to right, Karisa Sprague, Walmart supply chain SVP, Jennifer McKeehan, Walmart end-to-end delivery SVP,  and Jane Ewing, Walmart sustainability SVP. (Photo taken by Brooke DiPalma/Yahoo Finance)
Walmart introduced new packaging, moving away from plastic mailers as it boosts itself as an omnichannel network. From left to right, Karisa Sprague, Walmart supply chain SVP, Jennifer McKeehan, Walmart end-to-end delivery SVP, and Jane Ewing, Walmart sustainability SVP. (Photo taken by Brooke DiPalma/Yahoo Finance)

Going greener: Walmart is moving from plastic to recyclable paper mailers and using technology to get the size of cardboard packaging right. It is also giving customers the option to opt out of bags for pickup orders and the option to consolidate shipping orders, as Amazon (AMZN) does. However, unlike Amazon, there are no incentives, like credits, to encourage customers to make the "sustainable" choice.

As a result of the switch, Walmart will eliminate over 2,000 tons of secondary plastic packaging and 65 million plastic bag mailers once the switch rolls out through the end of this fiscal year. The right size packaging is also expected to allow the company to put more boxes in trucks and thus reduce miles for shipping.

Star-studded lineup: On Friday, Walmart wowed the crowd of shareholders and associates from Sam's Club, Walmart US, and Walmart International, including employees from China for the first time in four years, with quite a few A-list celebrities. Shania Twain kicked off the associate celebration, followed by host Kevin Hart. Other performers included John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Rachel Platten, and Pitbull. Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans also made guest appearances, while Tom Cruise recorded a video for the event.

Walmart by the numbers (Credit: Yahoo Finance, Source: Walmart)
Walmart by the numbers (Credit: Yahoo Finance, Source: Walmart)

Brooke DiPalma is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at bdipalma@yahoofinance.com.

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