Walmart Training Employees for Black Friday 2018 With VR Simulations

November 19, 2018         By: Steven Anderson

It wasn’t so long ago we were looking at the confluence of mobile payments and virtual reality when it came to retail shopping. Now, we’re actually seeing VR take a place in brick-and-mortar shopping, this time as a training tool at Walmart. Walmart is planning to use VR as a way to train employees for one of the busiest shopping days ever: Black Friday.

Walmart is bringing in 17,000 Oculus Go headsets, reports note, in a bid to train employees at 4,700 stores. That’s not evenly divisible, so it’s a safe bet some stores will get more headsets than others. Once the headsets are in hand, Walmart will start subjecting employees to a Black Friday simulation, complete with pressure, noise, and the relevant expectations that go into such an event.

This actually isn’t a new event for Walmart; it’s been planning to bring VR training to its operations since last September, where it sent four Oculus VR headsets to every Walmart supercenter, and two to every Neighborhood Market and discount store. It was originally intended as a way to give every employee access to the training that was provided at Walmart’s US Academies.

So far, the plan seems to work well; employees reportedly retain between 10 and 15 percent more information with VR as a tool than through several other means like online demonstrations, videos, and classroom work. Essentially, reports note, the brain treats the VR simulation as if it were something that actually happened, to the viewer, and that helps improve retention.

From the look of it, about the only thing it doesn’t simulate is getting trampled by a crowd in that initial opening press, an event that seems to happen just about every Black Friday for the last several years now. There’s a value in using VR as a training tool; we’ve already seen it work for a variety of fields from surgery to military service. It might have seemed outlandish that it could work for a retailer, but on a certain level, it makes sense.

While I’d sooner see Walmart address the whole trampling thing rather than customer service training, this is still a step in the right direction, and one that may bring some customers back to Walmart for something other than low everyday prices.