Can VR help Walmart better train one million employees?

The company is purchasing 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets to help train staff on new technologies and processes.
3 October 2018

Walmart is using VR to train employees. Source: STRIVR

Everybody is fascinated with virtual reality (VR) technology.

It’s not just reserved for gamers anymore — with headsets becoming cheaper and more developers working on creating better software and experiences on VR — the technology is making its way into big businesses.

In fact, according to IDC, while the consumer side of the VR headset market remains the focus of attention, the commercial side has seen pilots and large-scale deployments gaining traction.

In the second quarter this year, roughly 20 percent of VR headsets were destined for the commercial sector, up from 14 percent in the same period last year, explained the consulting firm.

Well, thanks to Walmart alone, it seems as those numbers will get quite a boost. The company recently announced that it will be purchasing 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets by the end of this year to help train 1 million of its staff.

Last year, the retail giant introduced VR to the world of employee training and development by using the technology to upgrade training at 200 Walmart Academies nationwide.

Based on feedback from staffers, the company believes that the program was a huge success and is now providing Oculus VR headsets to all of its 5,000 stores in the US.

Starting this month, Walmart’s VR training partner STRIVR will be sending four headsets to every Walmart Supercenter and two to every Neighborhood Market and Discount Store.

By the end of the year, every single associate–including those on the floor who interact with customers the most–will have access to the same training that their managers and department managers do.

“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.” explained Senior Director of Walmart US Academies Andy Trainor.

Is VR actually helpful?

According to the retailer’s blogpost, Walmart plans to use VR to train associates in three main areas: New technology, soft skills like empathy and customer service, and compliance.

However, from the first use cases, it seems that VR will be critical to the company’s digital ambitions, helping workers gain confidence in using and managing new technologies deployed at stores.

In a pilot test this summer, for example, 10 stores used VR for training on new Pickup Tower units in their stores. VR made it possible for associates to be trained before the towers were even installed – no teachers required.

Instilling confidence is exactly what makes VR so effective as a training tool. Because the effect of VR training is like an experience in real life, associates have the freedom to make mistakes and learn by “doing,” all while in a safe environment.

“Walmart was one of the first companies to benefit from VR’s ability to enrich employee education, and its applications will only grow from here. What makes it so compelling is that costly, difficult, or otherwise-impossible scenarios and simulations become not only possible, but immediately within reach,” said Oculus’ Head of Business Partnerships Andy Mathis.

While Walmart definitely is one of the first — it isn’t going to be the last. KFC, UPS, and several others are working on deploying the technology, albeit at a smaller scale for now. In the future, given the cost savings and efficiencies VR creates, trainings will leverage the technology in many new and exciting ways.