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Walmart greeters take a few steps back, focus on customers

The friendly faces, often of older folks, smiling and saying hello to shoppers as they enter big retail stores has been part of the American shopping experience for years.

But now Walmart, which introduced this folksy touch, is readjusting the landscape. The change comes several weeks after a 70-year-old greeter was attacked at the Batavia Walmart when she tried to check a shopper's bag.

Greeters now have been directed to stand back from store entrances, about 15 feet deeper inside the stores, Walmart says.

The retail giant insists the Batavia incident has nothing to do with the policy change.

"Over the years [greeters] have been asked to take on additional responsibilities, such as tagging returns, prepping and cleaning carts, and we are removing those responsibilities to allow them to focus on our customers," said Ashley Hardie, a Walmart spokeswoman.

The change, she said, is intended to "focus on our customers and ensure they have a pleasant shopping experience."

"[Greeters] will be moving farther into the store, about 10 or 15 feet, so they will be located near the front doors and the checkout lines," Hardie said. "That way they can still greet customers as they come in, and they can also interact with customers while they are shopping."

Greeters, she added, no longer will check purchase receipts against merchandise inside the bags of exiting customers.

That is what apparently sparked an assault on a greeter at the Batavia store Christmas Eve morning.

Jacquetta Simmons, 26, is accused of punching 70-year-old Grace Suozzi in the face, hard enough to cause several facial fractures, after Suozzi attempted to verify the contents inside Simmons' bag, according to state police.

"Our top priority is the safety of our customers and associates and we work with local police to review those measures," Hardie said.

Despite what police said, Suozzi is employed as a cashier, Hardie added, and Walmart is fully cooperating with authorities in the matter.

Simmons was charged with two counts of assault and is scheduled to return to Town of Batavia Court at 1 p.m. Monday.

On the question of shoplifting, Hardie said, "We have associates to deter criminal activities. Our asset protection team does an excellent job of monitoring for theft."