When it comes to immersive, digitally created environments, augmented reality may be the trendy tech for retail. But virtual reality is making gains, especially for enterprise uses.
And now, thanks to Walmart, many, many more stores are suddenly going to dive into that scenario. The big-box giant revealed on Thursday that it’s sending VR headsets to all of its U.S. locations for training purposes.
Walmart will send more than 17,000 Oculus Go stand-alone devices to some 4,700 stores, starting next month through the end of the year. The move is a follow-on to its VR employee training, a program announced last year for Walmart Academies. To power the experiences, the retailer partnered with Strivr, a tech company that specializes in VR football training.
There are 45 training modules with various scenarios. Some, like how to deal with a virtual holiday shopping stampede, would be tough to duplicate in the real world. The headsets make those simulations more feasible and, according to the company’s blog, provide a helpful environment for learning new technologies. Over the summer, employees across 10 different stores used VR to get acquainted with new Pickup Towers. The company notes that the program enables people to learn new tech without an instructor and even before the equipment shows up.
“The great thing about VR is its ability to make learning experiential,” the blog quotes Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies, as saying. “When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent — even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts.”
Previously, the program involved the full Oculus Rift system, but now the company has cut those cords. Thanks to the stand-alone Go’s untethered proposition, employees no longer have to feel like they’re attached to the Matrix, with goggles physically wired to a PC.
Companies of various stripes are finding uses for VR, which has already attracted major interest from businesses like architectural firms, real estate agencies and others. In the retail sector, VR usage tends to lean into branded experiences for consumers. Now, it’s spreading into more pragmatic areas, and in one fell swoop — with more than 1 million Walmart associates ready to strap in — it just became one of the biggest retail training tools.