OPERATIONS

Walmart augments training with virtual reality

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

While the industry continues to explore how to leverage virtual reality, Walmart is embracing the technology in a big way.

The retail giant will be adding VR-based instruction at its 200 Walmart Academy training centers in the United States by the end of the year. The technology will be used to educate approximately 140,000 employees that go through the program each year, according to Walmart.

Each location will have an Oculus Rift headset and gaming PC that will showcase a collection of VR training content. The content is being created by STRIVR Labs, a start-up that already creates training videos for sports teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, and the U.S. Ski Team.

In fact, it was a Walmart executive’s love of football that sparked the idea. While watching the University of Arkansas football team practice, Brock McKeel, Walmart’s senior director of central operations, was inspired by how the athletes were interacting with the VR technology during practice, and using it to test their skills and reactions in real-life scenarios. It was this discovery — and discussions with one of the coaches – this pushed McKeel to pursue how to apply VR to training at Walmart.

Currently, the technology is available in 30 academies. Associates who have gone through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t, reported Beth Harris, Walmart spokeswoman.

“We used it to train our associates to handle situations from the everyday, like managing the fresh area, to the rare, like Black Friday,” she explained. “VR allows associates to experience a lifelike store environment to experiment, learn and handle difficult situations without the need to recreate disruptive incidents or disturb the customers’ shopping experience.”

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