Walmart Academies have begun using various VR retail scenarios to educate new employees.
Working in retail is anything but easy. Especially if you’re employed at one of the most popular multinational retailing corporations in the world. Walmart staff have their work cut out for them, one of the many reasons why the retail giant began opening its many ‘Walmart Academies’ to train its future staff on the details of their expected duties in a comfortable and cost-efficient manner. Now thanks to the success of an early pilot program currently being tested at a handful of these locations, over 140,000 Walmart associates across all 200 training centers will feature virtual reality training simulators by the end of 2017.
The current trial curriculum, produced by immersive performance training platform Strivr, uses an Oculus Rift headset to immerse associates in education VR simulations. According to Strivr CEO Derek Belch, the idea is to test employees in real-world scenarios too obstructive or innefficient to recreate in real life. Realistic occurrences such as spills, confrontations, and the retail D-Day that is Black Friday are examples given.
“We’re using computer vision to map scenes, so we literally know exactly where someone’s looking,” Belch stated when speaking with Verge. “If they don’t look at [the right place] and press the button indicating that they have seen the stimuli that we’re looking for, we know.” Wearers might look around an environment and find the spill, for example, then answer a multiple-choice question about what effect it could have on the store.”
The select academies currently engaged in the pilot program have had positive results when using VR to engage employees, reporting that those who used the virtual simulations retained the training information better than those who did not. Thanks to these impressive results all 200 Walmart Academies will each feature their own VR simulators by the end of the year.
“When they said we were going to be using VR for training, I thought it was brilliant,” said Sean Gough, Academy facilitator at the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma store. “From cashier to lawn and garden, to electronics or fresh – there are just so many areas where I think this training would be so helpful.”
Each VR setup features a Rift, with each employee going one at a time in sessions lasting round 5 to 20 minutes. Those waiting for their turn can view the experience live on a separate monitor, allowing instructors to educate class members not currently engaged in VR. Belch sees this as a mere stepping stone however as he lays out his concept for a much bigger operation:
“This is something that we have talked openly with [Walmart] about, that very well could be at every Walmart store in a couple years,” he says. “You could imagine this area where there’s a room in the back and there are three mobile headsets hanging on the wall, and employees have to go through continuing education every month, going through VR modules.”
With one of the biggest retail giants in the world taking such massive leaps into VR simulations, it’ll be interesting to see how other major chains react to this surprising level of commitment. Both Lowes and Amazon are already taking their own unique approaches towards embracing VR as well.
Could we be seeing the dawn of VR in retail and shopping? We’ll just have to wait and see how the public reacts. In the meantime, we know at least one person who’s excited: