Walmart changes the world again – this time with virtual reality

The Rundown: 

Walmart is paving the path for VR training, bringing VR devices to 5,000 stores across the US to improve the training of over 1 million employees. The training applications will place their trainees in simulated, hands-on experiences and also help them prepare for the worst – like Black Friday or an erratic customer. Their VR training methodology will be copied by 90% of retail companies in the next 6 years, while also bleeding into various other industries.

High-risk, life-threatening jobs have been using virtual reality (in a way) for decades with their training simulators. For the past 65 years, pilots have had to log hundreds of hours in realistic flight simulators. A main pillar of military and police training is the simulation of dangerous situations.

Now, we’re beginning to see simulation training take shape in corporate jobs – where the stakes are far from life-threatening, but still risky in their own way. You know, come to think of it, Walmart on Black Friday actually is a life-threatening situation, which is probably why they are using VR training.

Walmart Leads the Charge

Back in 2017, Walmart with help from the VR company STRIVR, brought VR Training to each of their 200 Walmart Academies for the purpose of management instruction. Satisfied with the results, they announced a month ago that they would bring VR Training to 5,000 stores across the U.S. to improve the training of over 1 million employees. That’s a lot of simulations.

This might seem out of character for this seemingly low-tech corporation. However, let’s not forget that Walmart is the third largest employer on the face of Earth (behind the US Department of Defense and the People’s Liberation Army). Finding ways to optimize their training process is key to Walmart’s success.

What’s the deal with VR Training?

The clear benefit is that VR offers a hands-on experience very close to the real thing without actually putting a new hire onto the job. It’s a way for employees to dip their toes in the water before diving into the shark tank.

Knowledge Anywhere is one particular company that is imagining how VR could be used to train employees in Healthcare, Manufacturing, Technology, Financial, Hospitality, and more. For instance, their President Charlie Gillette gave a presentation on a few different jobs that could benefit from these hands-on experiences.

  • Wind turbine maintenance workers – VR could simulate the pressure of repairing turbines at 200 feet tall, with wind blowing in their ears and a lot of open air below them.
  • Utility workers – VR could simulate confined areas and possible safety challenges a utility worker may have to assess.
  • Sales Reps – it goes without saying the salesmen who learn how to adapt to each scenario are likely to flourish. VR presents limitless scenarios the rep must learn how to adapt to.

These are all positions that could greatly benefit from VR training. But, many of them are at least 3-5 years away from robust applications being created for their disciplines. However, the age of VR training for retail and hospitality is upon us right now – particularly, because of the benefit of special situation management.

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Special Situation Management

With Black Friday right around the corner, I’m picturing the absolute chaos that ensues in stores across this nation. VR training could give employees a taste of this situation so they can prepare mentally and physically for how to control these situations.

Additionally, managers can place their future employees in situations that might be rare occurrences but are still important to know how to handle. Like Ryan’s interaction with an erratic customer:

In my year of working as a grocery store cashier back when I was 16, there were only a handful of times where a customer stepped out of line. This one case, there was a man huffing and puffing in the checkout line next to me, clearly agitated that he had to wait a couple minutes. Out of nowhere, he began shouting rhetorically, but clearly wanting everyone to hear, “I don’t understand why you hire all these stupid high schoolers that can’t ring up a F****** item to save their life.”

Since he was shouting at one of my coworkers, I turned around and told him, “Hey, calm down buddy. She’s doing the best she can.”

To which he replied, “You better watch your mouth little boy.” (Note: this guy was about five-foot nothing. I’m six-foot-five.)

“Little boy? Ha! You’re talking to a full-grown man. You need to relax.”

A little surprised and embarrassed that I talked back to him, the guy stormed out of the store. Everyone exchanged weird glances wondering what just happened and went on about their business. Five minutes later my manager pulled me into his office and reprimanded me to never step in like that again or he’d have to fire me.

Scenarios like Ryan’s arise all the time. Unfortunately, more often for employees of low-wage jobs. They just don’t get the respect they deserve. These situations are not easy to handle, especially since the disgruntled customer often takes a jab at the employee’s character and self-worth. But it’s just something that comes with the territory.

STRIVR is leading the helm of VR training, setting the example for many other industry providers.

By 2024, 90% of the retail and hospitality companies in the Fortune 500 will utilize virtual reality to enhance their employee training.

It goes beyond retail and hospitality positions too.

Preparing for the Worst

What Ryan pointed out with retail, and I’d bet many other people recognize in sales, management, marketing, healthcare, maintenance, etc. is that we’re often trained how to work when everything is going smoothly. Training programs may discuss how to handle situations that have gone wrong. But, talking about them is nothing like experiencing them.

Let’s take a lesson from the aerospace industry, who use their flight simulators to prepare their pilots for the worst case scenario.

We should be looking to VR training as a way to subject employees to the tough situations that make or break them. Extreme situation management in VR training would do wonders for every single job that involves interpersonal skills, whether this be in sales, nursing, maintenance, etc…

Isn’t it ironic to hear that VR will be used in the future to improve our interpersonal skills?

Anyways, this goes to show that when we take VR out of its initial, popular purpose of gaming and entertainment, we’ll actually find some quite interesting use cases of how it’ll, in fact, improve our lives and make us better social beings. Who knew?

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