The company is augmenting in-store sales floor training with engaging virtual reality scenarios that play out in real time and can educate employees across the country.
How people live, work, and shop is changing rapidly—and so is Walmart. By combining technology and innovation with a commitment to training, skill development, and lifelong learning, we are reinventing our store experience and empowering our people to deliver for customers, grow in their jobs, and have the opportunity for advancement and success.
Our journey began by reviewing how work was getting done in our stores, with an eye toward simplification. The result was a complete rewrite of nearly every process used to manage our day-to-day business. We also saw an opportunity to equip our people with mobile technology and a suite of custom-built apps that provide real-time data on everything from sales to product availability to customer satisfaction, helping our associates know where they can make the biggest difference. Today, thanks to data and technology, our people are able to manage their stores directly from a tablet on the sales floor.
At the same time, we set out to reinvent our training programs to support the new way of working and skill development our people would need for their future. Our existing online and job-shadowing training programs were replaced with a hands-on classroom experience called Walmart Academy, which has trained approximately 370,000 associates in 200 sites across the country.
From the start, we wanted to enhance the training experience with technology. In the academies, the coursework doesn’t require printed or written materials—just tablets, screens, and facilitators. We designed the curriculum to be 25 percent in the classroom and 75 percent on the sales floor, so our people could gain hands-on experience using technology in real-life scenarios.
But not every situation can be easily created on the sales floor—like a spill or the holiday rush. So we began looking for new ways to bring those experiences to life. Around that time, one of our associates saw football players training with virtual reality (VR). While we were exploring ways we might use VR, we hadn’t yet considered it as a way to teach.
‘I’m not sure VR will ever be a 100 percent replacement for real-life sales floor situations, though there is value in being able to experience situations that are difficult to re-create, and using cutting-edge technology makes the experience fun and engaging for our associates.’
We started with one VR headset in one Walmart Academy with a single use case: We placed an associate in a virtual store environment and asked her to look for potential problems such as litter on the floor, a spill, or a sign hanging incorrectly. The other trainees observed, in real time, the associate’s interaction with the environment on screens in the classroom. The trainees were fully engaged in the experience, able to clearly visualize the surroundings and the corresponding behaviors. It worked so well that we’ve expanded VR-based training and a wide variety of use cases to all 200 academy locations.
Looking at engagement and recall of the material, the power of VR as a training tool became clear. I’m not sure VR will ever be a 100 percent replacement for real-life sales floor situations, though there is value in being able to experience situations that are difficult to re-create, and using cutting-edge technology makes the experience fun and engaging for our associates.
There is undoubtedly a lasting impact on our associates’ overall experience when they learn from this technology. More than a how-to manual that spells out routine actions and responses, the immersive experience helps build confidence and prepare our people to run great stores.
Technology is reshaping the future of retail, and in order to compete, we must always lean into innovation and try new things. Some will work; some will not. We test, learn, and move on. At one time, in-store WiFi was a novelty—now it’s a table stake. In the same way, we weren’t sure whether VR training would work or if it was just an intriguing idea. Now we know VR is a powerful and effective way to empower our associates and teach them new skills. Combined with our academy training program and hand-held technology, it will help drive the transformation of what it means to work (and shop) at Walmart.
—by Judith McKenna, president and CEO, Walmart International