TECHNOLOGY

Walmart sparks interest in training with gamified app

BY Dan Berthiaume

Walmart is making the serious business of employee training fun.

The discount titan is using Spark City, a simulation-style video game app, to help train new store associates. The app, already available to the public for iOS and Android devices, will be rolled out at all Walmart training academies next month.

Spark City, which was developed internally at Walmart, is designed to help Walmart associates understand a day in the life of an hourly supervisor. Players design an avatar and then use it to run a dry grocery department, responding in real time to realistic on-the-job scenarios. Players receive performance scores in inventory, customer satisfaction and sales after making decisions, and the players’ avatars perform a happy dance for score increases and portray angry expressions when scores decrease.

Walmart selected a department manager as the game’s lead character because department managers represent the largest group of supervisors in the company, with 15 to 20 in the average store.

“We felt they were a crucial but underrepresented group of associates when it came to content,” Daniel Shepherd, the Walmart associate who developed Spark City, said in a blog post.

A recently released second level of Spark City focuses on the lawn and garden department. Additional responsibilities from the dry grocery level include having a whole team of associates to manage, watering plants and training and mentoring. Walmart already has plans to release four more levels of the app focused on entertainment, apparel, deli/bakery, and customer service manager tasks.

Spark City is not Walmart’s first effort at blending digital experiences into its associate training program. In October 2018, the discount giant launched virtual reality (VR) training at store level with Oculus VR headsets. The Oculus platform delivers realistic, repeatable and scalable training content, which helps associates learn information more quickly and retain it better. The VR training program focuses on teaching employees about new technology, soft skills, like empathy and customer service, and compliance.

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