retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Think of it as an after-five culture clash.

The Wall Street Journal reports that one of the by-products of Walmart's $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet was the dictum from Bentonville that drinking would no longer be allowed in Jet's Hoboken, New Jersey, headquarters.

Not that they were drinking a lot, or during the workday. But, "Jet employees were accustomed to the perks and quirks of a startup that raised more than $500 million from investors. They had the requisite pool table, cold-brew coffee on tap and conference rooms named after comic-book locations. While those things stayed, an array of liquor in an office kitchen cupboard marked 'Bar' didn’t. Some Jet employees squirreled away a few bottles before an outside company packed up the contraband, says one former employee."

In fact, Walmart "made a major concession to Jet’s thousands of employees by allowing Jet to pay for an off-site happy hour. " But the problem was that people didn't go to off-site happy hours the same way they went to the in-office versions, where they could just wander in and out and go back to work.

Then, something surprising happened: "Wal-Mart reversed course. In recent weeks Jet brought back Thursday night happy hour in the office - generally beer, wine and food." In fact, the Journal writes, "The change is permeating the empire. Wal-Mart had wine and beer at a tailgate for its e-commerce team in San Bruno, Calif., when it hosted its annual day at a San Francisco Giants game in May. It is also allowing other startups it has acquired to host a weekly office happy hour - pending approval from a Wal-Mart executive vice president."

The story notes that this represents an extraordinary shift for Walmart, which is headquartered in an Arkansas county that only allowed the sale of alcohol in 2012, and which "generally doesn’t allow employees to expense alcohol during work outings, let alone drink in the office."

It seems to me that these are the sorts of adjustments that Walmart is going to have to make if it is going to be taken seriously by the kinds of innovative people and companies that will drive it forward in its competition with Amazon and embracing of 21st century realities. That it did so ... well, that an Eye-Opener.
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