Walmart is bringing virtual reality headsets to the backroom. Employees of the largest U.S. employer will now be using VR during their training process, partnering with STRIVR.
The new initiative will allow store workers to virtually experience things like Black Friday before it happens or keep up with the demands of the fresh foods area on a daily basis. Or store managers can virtually visit other locations to see how stores are run, giving them a new perspective. Ideally, VR will help everyone be better prepared for potential retail disasters and improve customer service. The program will roll out in 30 Walmart Academy training centers first and will be in all 200 facilities by the end of the year. That training will reach more than 140,000 associates this year.
In a statement, Walmart said, "Ultimately, everything associates do is geared toward giving customers the best experience. Through VR, associates can see how their actions affect that. It's helpful for associates to see mistakes in a virtual environment and know how to deal with them before they experience it in real life and don't know what to do."
Brock McKeel, senior director of central operations at Walmart, first got the idea to incorporate VR into training after watching how the football team at the University of Arkansas was using it. The team confirmed the technology had improved the team's performance on the field. In preliminary testing of the Walmart training, the retailer reports that associates who experience VR training retain more of what they learn than those that don't. And store managers seem to be excited by the opportunity.
"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."
STRIVR's performance training is used by Fortune 100 companies such as Verizon, Visa and Google to get employees in many industries up to speed faster. The company boasts that its VR program leads to learning retention rates as high as 75 percent, versus just 10 percent for reading or watching a lecture. It also says its program can reduce reaction time in a stressful situation by 20 percent.
The technology will project what an employee sees inside of a virtual reality headset onto a TV so that other members of the class can see what's happening. The current training modules range in duration from 45 seconds to five minutes. They feature interactive choices that require quick decision-making. But being that the virtual reality itself is so new, it's not yet clear how long is too long for a session or how much rest should be taken between sessions in a VR headset. Regardless, with a roll out of this size, it seems clear that virtual reality is here to stay and is only poised to expand.