Training is a fundamental part of any retailer’s operations. New associates need to be brought up to speed on best practices as soon as possible. Current employees also need to be trained when retailers adopt new technology or best practices evolve. VR retail training is an innovative way for retailers to accomplish both of these goals.
VR retail training offers several advantages over conventional training. VR can create the exact environments and situations that associates can find themselves in. VR retail training is incredibly engaging and helps associates retain more information to put into practice when they hit the floor. A single trainer, using VR, can effectively train a higher number of employees. This means retailers can keep their best associates on the floor, instead of pulling them away for training sessions.
In order to improve their training, Walmart turned to STRIVR, a VR company collaborating on new solutions and applications with various organizations. Together they came up with a VR training program that would fit their needs, then piloted the course through the Walmart Academy system.
Walmart has been using more conventional training for decades. Building on the early days of training video tapes, the company has brought in computer-based slideshows, exercises, and interactive games for trainees and associates to use for learning purposes. Especially at the busiest times, flexible employees who can perform several different tasks are vital. It was time for Walmart to up their game, and break into VR.
VR Retail Training
Together with STRIVR, Walmart tested a VR training solution. The goal was to have demonstrably better trained associates through a course that would be easy to run for trainers.
Using VR in training is very different from customer-facing VR applications. For customers, VR can be a valuable tool to make better choices and get a more complete view of a product. Retailers can also use VR to create interactive experience to draw people in. While there is a positive effect on morale, VR’s primary function in training is to create controlled environments in which to run simulations.
Using Oculus Rift headsets, Walmart and STRIVR simulated various in-store areas such as the front end and the fresh wall. By dropping the trainees into real situations, they could address issues like preventing shrink and crisping produce, right to simulating a Black Friday event. The trainees were able to see everything a customer sees, letting them get hands-on experience without being on the sales floor, where mistakes could result in lost sales.
The program was a success. 70% of employees who used STRIVR training did better on their learning evaluation exams versus the group that did not use STRIVR. The overall training satisfaction score reported by these employees was also 30% higher than those who did the standard training.
The New Paradigm
Walmart is now rolling out this program to all 1 million of its associates nationwide. Each store will receive Oculus VR headsets, giving each associate access to this new and improved training program. There will be three areas of focus: “soft skills” which includes customer service, technology, and compliance.
Andy Trainor, senior director of Walmart’s Academies, commented via Walmart’s own blog: “The great thing about VR is its ability to make learning experiential. When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent – even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts.”
Walmart will be using the Oculus to train new associates on their new Pickup Towers, which are being installed at more and more locations. Pickup towers make it extremely easy for customers to pick up Walmart.com orders and represent a shift in the relationship between Walmart’s physical stores and e-commerce operation. Thanks to VR, Walmart associates will have hands on experience with Pickup Towers before they even hit the sales floor.
VR training will only continue to grow in the coming years and months. Walmart’s training program boosted morale and confidence by giving associates real world experience in a concise and effective way. VR training is an immediate statement to new associates that retailers are serious about training them. VR retail training is a great way to combat first-day jitters and the confusion the comes with learning new technology. The numbers don’t lie: VR training is a better way for retailers to prepare their employees to enter a world where retail is changing at an increasingly rapid pace.
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