Posted: May 25th, 2022
Communications Audit Report: A Case Study of Walmart Inc.
A Case Study of Walmart Inc.: Communications Audit Report
Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, and the world’s largest company by revenues. A communications audit was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the company’s communication strategy. This report presents the findings of that audit. It shows the specific media and channel used to communicate with internal and external stakeholders.
Communications Audit Report: A Case Study of Walmart Inc.
Walmart is an American-based multinational corporation headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. The company was founded in 1962 with the aim of providing discount goods to customers to enable them live better. It went public in October 1969 to facilitate the achievement of this vision. Today, the company operates over 11,000 stores in 27 countries, dealing in a wide range of merchandise including foodstuffs, groceries, clothing, furniture, apparel, toys, electronics and clothing. It is home to over 2.2 million employees across the world, and is regarded as one of the world’s most valuable companies. This report reviews Walmart’s communication processes. It examines the specific channels and media that the company uses to communicate with its stakeholders. The insight provided herein was collected through a communications audit involving participants from the company’s main stakeholder groups.
Objective of the Communications Audit
I have worked as an associate at Walmart’s store in West Hills, California for the past one year. During this period, I have been acquainted with the organization’s leadership, business processes, goals and operational strategies. Besides providing everyday low prices to customers, Walmart commits itself to maintaining a climate of positive communication with its stakeholders (Walmart Inc., 2015). In recent years, however, a rift has developed between the company’s leadership and various stakeholder groups, particularly shareholders and employees. A recently-conducted audit into the company’s operations revealed that ineffective communication systems were partly to blame for the growing rift between the company and its stakeholders. Based on these revelations I sought my branch manager’s permission to conduct a communications audit to determine the effect of the same on our branch.
The overriding goal of the conducted audit was to seek facts and perceptions about the organizations’ communications strategy from customers and employees, and to consequently propose recommendations that could ensure improved public relation management, greater stakeholder involvement, and enhanced two-way communication between the company and its internal and external stakeholders (Downs & Adrian, 2012). This draft report, however, only prevents the findings of that particular audit; the recommendations are still being drafted and will appear in the final report that will be submitted to the branch manager.
Nature and Scope of Audit
Walmart has a large number of stakeholder groups including customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, lenders, the community, the government and so on. Owing to cost limitations, it was not possible to include representatives from all of these stakeholder groups in the audit. As a result, the audit was limited to only two stakeholder groups — employees and external customers. Moreover, the audit was limited to the company’s West Hills branch. The overriding assumption was that the strategies and methodologies used in communication are similar across all of the company’s branches.
Audit information was collected in two fundamental steps. First, consultant samples from the company’s communication policies, news clippings, booklets and newsletters were reviewed to determine the various strategies, media and technologies used in internal and external communication. Later, the auditor conducted in-depth interviews with 75 participants, 50 employees and 25 external customers. Two one-hour focus group meetings were held with the participating employees in the store room when the store closed on two different Sunday evenings (Sunday was selected because the store closes early). One focus group consisted of employees between the ages of 20 and 35 (focus group 1, whereas the other consisted of those above 36 years of age (focus group 2). The auditor figured that the two groups would have different views in regard to their most preferred communication channel and medium.
No focus groups were held to obtain views from participating customers; the auditor had a labeled spot near the store’s exit. Customers willing to give their views could do so willingly after being notified of the same by the rest of the staff inside the store.
Table 1 below presents the demographics of the participating employees
Table 1: Demographics of Participating Employees
Duration of Service at Walmart
Over 15 years
Participation in the audit was voluntary. However, to be eligible to participate, an employee needed to have served at Walmart for a minimum of 3 years. This was a measure to ensure that participants were well-acquainted with the organization’s processes and communication strategy.
Information Captured in the Audit
The audit sought to determine the main media, channels and technologies used in internal and external communication at Wal-Mart. The following key questions were examined during the audit:
i) What communication channels do you use to receive information from Wal-Mart, and what channels would you prefer to use for the same?
ii) What media do you use to receive information from Wal-Mart, and what media would you prefer?
iii) What technology does the company use to transport information to its stakeholders?
The responses provided by participants have been summarized in the subsequent subsections of this report.
Communication Channels used at Wal-Mart
Communication channels were defined as the means through which people communicate or pass information across to others (Newsorm, Turk & Kruckeberg, 2012). The following five communication channels were identified: electronic communication, mobile communication, written communication, broadcast media and face-to-face communication (Newsorm et al., 2012).
Employee Focus Group 1 Responses
Focus group 1 was composed of employees between the ages of 20 and 35. This group identified electronic and written communication channels as the channels that are mostly used by the organization to pass information to them. Written communication was identified as the most commonly-used channel, although participants indicated that they preferred the electronic channel. One participant indicated that written communication was old-school, and electronic communication was the way to go. The employees cited speed and convenience as the primary reasons why they preferred electronic communication to written communication. One employee pointed out that they would be more comfortable reading an email or taking a quick glimpse at the company’s website than stopping at a corridor to look at a poster. This employee suggested that the organization develop a culture of communicating information through both means so that individuals could subscribe to that which they felt more comfortable with.
Mobile communication was identified as the third most commonly-used channel of communication within the organization. Apps such as WalmartOne were used to communicate new initiatives in-house, and were appreciated by employees as they allowed them access to real time information about what is going on in the company.
Broadcast media and face-to-face communication were used to communicate with employees only very rarely. The latter ranked lowest, with a significant number of employees indicating that they had not seen their supervisors for the past 1 month. One participant mentioned that she did not consider face-to-face communication a good channel because even when employees attend meetings, they have no power; someone else makes the decisions. According to this participant, face-to-face communication would work better if employees were given an opportunity to participate and the power to change things around the organization.
Employee Focus Group 2 Responses
Like their counterparts in group 1, this group of employees identified written communication as the most commonly-used channel for top-down communication within the organization. Posters were identified as the most common form of written communication within the organization. Differently from their counterparts, however, this group showed preference for written and face-to-face communication. One participant pointed out that they had not checked their email in years, and did not even know how to maneuver through the different sections of the company’s website to obtain new information. Electronic and mobile communication were not among the most preferred channels of communication for this particular group, with participants suggesting that the organization develop a culture of organizing meetings or conferences to pass important messages across to employees. According to participants in this group, the organization’s reduced use of face-to-face communication is driving it to lose touch with its employees.
External Customer Responses
Customers identified broadcast media, electronic sources, and written communication as the channels that they relied on most to obtain information on new offers and initiatives at the company. A majority of respondents mentioned that they relied primarily on the company’s website for new information; older respondents, however, mentioned that they mostly relied on word-of-mouth referrals from friends and family, TV, radio, print journals and magazines for new information about the company. The Wall Street Journal and Walmart newsletters were identified as the most common forms of written communication used by the organization to pass information across to the public.
Specific Communication Media used at Wal-Mart
Communication media were defined as the specific tools used for communication within the identified channels (Chandler & Munday, 2011).
Media for Communicating with Employees
Posters, Fliers and Weekly Newsletters: Posters, fliers and weekly newsletters were identified as the most commonly used forms of written communication used by the organization to communicate in-house. Employees look to the walls and bulletin boards for new initiatives and job opportunities in the organization. However, most participants shared negative views about the way posters were used to communicate information — one participant mentions that the posters were designed in a wasteful manner and were not at all attractive. Another participant suggested that the organization reduce its dependence on posters as they perpetuate wasteful behavior. According to this participant, newsletters and fliers, which are used to a much smaller extent than posters need to be used more because after all, they can be carried home, allowing information to spread to a wider range of people.
The Company’s Website and Staff Portal: the company’s corporate website came out as one of the strongest forms of electronic media used for in-house communication at Walmart. Employees check the website for news briefings, scheduled events, job postings, and new initiatives. Participants, however, complained about the website’s design, with most arguing that the site was rather complex and presented challenges for users attempting to locate specific news items and events. The staff portal was portrayed as being more manageable in terms of delivering in-house communication. One participant points out that once you log in to your account, all the information and new happenings for the day are just there on the home page.
Wal-Mart Email: focus group discussions showed that the company often used email to communicate with its employees. However, participants indicated that their use of the Walmart.com email was limited by security concerns. One participant mentioned that they shunned from using email because there one may never be able to tell whether an email is genuine, or is a result of a virus attack. One employee, who also constantly shops at the company made reference to a specific instance when she received an email from the company thanking her for placing an order for a Samsung phone. Upon taking a closer look at the email, she discovered that someone had hacked into her email address and placed an order for the same using her billing address and payment information, but a different delivery address. The employee mentions that if she had not moved in time to cancel the order, she would have been a victim of fraud. The employee’s case was presented in the BoardingArea blog. I have included the link to the blog in the references section of this text. Such security concerns limit the extent to which employees use their Walmart.com emails as a medium for in-house communication.
Mobile Apps: Apps such as WalmartOne are used to communicate new initiatives and job opportunities to employees. Employees indicated their appreciation for such apps and commended the organization for introducing the same.
Meetings and Forums: these are used to pass information to small groups of employees; however, their use is severely limited, with the organization often preferring to use the other four mediums to communicate in-house.
Media for Communicating with External Customers
Walmart’s Website: Walmart’s corporate website was identified as a crucial source of information for customers, providing access to new product and service offerings, arising job opportunities, and attractive price deals. Most customers, however, mentioned that they found the website rather complex to use as it was particularly difficult locating specific products, especially if they did not appear on the homepage. They suggested that the company redesign the website to make it easier to use.
Print Media: newspapers, corporate bulletins, brochures, magazines, and the Wall Street Journal were identified as the specific forms of print media commonly used by the organization to communicate with external customers.
Broadcast Media: TV, radio and loudspeakers are the main forms of broadcast communication used to pass information on offerings and deals to external customers. These were, however, less commonly used by participants, who seemed to prefer print media and the company’s website.
Social Media: apps such as the Savings Catcher app are used to communicate new price deals to consumers and make them aware of new product offerings on which they could make significant savings. Moreover, through its pages on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the company is able to communicate such deals and market its new products to both new and existing consumers (Gray, 2012).
Communication Technologies used at Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart uses a variety of communication technologies to transport information to internal and external stakeholders. The consultant samples presented by the organization for review showed the company’s use of email (Walmart.com email for employees), short-message services, chat services and video conferencing, blogs such as WordPress and BoardingArea, and micro blogging services such as TwitterDocument (Yuan et al., 2013).
Walmart is the world’s largest corporation by revenues. The preceding sections present a picture of the organization’s communications strategy, and the specific elements that ought to be changed to make the strategy more effective. As has been demonstrated, the company relies on a variety of media to communicate with its customers and associates. These include the corporate website, the staff portal, the Walmart.com email, meetings and conferences, social media networks, and mobile apps. What comes out quite clearly from the audit, however, is that the company ought to change its communications strategy to reflect the preferences of its customers and employees. Younger employees have been shown to prefer electronic forms of communication whereas the older ones prefer written and face-to-face communication. Care should be taken to balance the communication needs and preferences of different employee groups so that the communications strategy chosen benefits all parties equally.
Chandler, D. & Munday, R. (2013). A Dictionary of Media and Communication. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Downs, C. W. & Adrian, A. D. (2012). Assessing Organizational Communication: Strategic Communications Audit.New York, NY: Guilford Publications.
Gray, D. (2012). The Connected Company. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media Inc.
Newsom, D., Turk, J. & Kruckeberg, D. (2012). This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Yuan, Y. C., Zhao, X., Liao, Q. & Chi, C. (2013). The Use of Different Information and Communication Technologies to Support Knowledge-Sharing in Organizations: From Email to Microblogging. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(8), 1965-1670.
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