Walmart is making virtual reality mainstream by making it available to as many as 150,000 employees a year that go through its Walmart Academy training centers for learning the brand’s approach to management, customer service and more.
The VR instruction, with content produced by Strivr Labs and hardware from Facebook’s Oculus Rift, as well as a gaming PC, will be introduced at each of the retailer’s 200 training centers in the US by the end of the year.
Walmart encountered Strivr’s VR program through its extensive use for sports training, with the University of Arkansas football program’s VR program catching its attention, so it decided to adapt the technology for a trial training run.
As the retailer notes in a blog post, “From our test, we’ve seen that associates who go through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t. Because of the promising results, we’ll be rolling out this training to all 200 of our Academy facilities by the end of 2017. That means that over 140,000 associates who will graduate from academies each year will have VR as an integral part of that experience.”
As an educational platform for Walmart’s up and coming managers, the VR modules will range from 30 seconds to five minutes and supplement traditional instruction. Interactive on-screen cues will trainees to make decisions in a variety of scenarios, TechCrunch said.
Encountering the Black Friday rush of shoppers that Walmart is famous for will be one of the “situations” — one particular VR module that may seem more like a war game.
“When they said they were going to be using VR for training, I thought it was brilliant,” Sean Gough, an Academy facilitator at Walmart, told Mobile Marketing Magazine.
“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. I feel really proud that Walmart would invest so much in training, particularly at the level they have.”
Introducing the tech to its managers will help in its intensifying efforts to compete with Amazon for e-commerce business and, at the highest level, the future of retailing. From an employer branding standpoint, it may also help engage, attract and retain millennial employees who may not see the company as being on the cutting-edge of innovation, or be aware of its Walmart Labs R&D activities.
One new twist in the battle for innovating is that (instead of robots or drones, for instance) Walmart is testing having associates make local deliveries of online orders on their way home—one scenario that some employees would prefer be virtual instead of actual.