NEW YORK — Walmart says it will test higher wages for new hourly positions at 500 of its U.S. stores as part of an overall strategy to empower its staff.

The nation's largest private employer, which operates roughly 4,700 namesake stores in the U.S., says it will raise the starting hourly wages from $11 to $12 for those new roles.

The workers will be trained and empowered to develop broader retail skills. For example, they'll help solve problems like inventory issues instead of only completing tasks given to them by managers, according to Jami Lamontagne, a Walmart spokeswoman.

The moves come as Walmart, like many other retailers, is under pressure to improve customer service as it fights online behemoth Amazon.

Walmart Inc. raised its starting pay to $11 an hour in early 2018.

That still lags behind other rivals like Target. In 2017, Target announced a plan to raise starting hourly wages to $15 by the end of this year. Target's starting wage is currently at $13 per hour.

Amazon, jumping out ahead of the pack, raised the minimum wage for hourly workers to $15 in late 2018.

Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer of Publicis Communications, applauded Walmart's latest move.

“'Retailers are increasingly in competition for decent workers,” he said. "They have to pay more to get employees who are competent.''

Walmart's initiative was first reported in Bloomberg.

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