Walmart deploys 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to train its employees

Walmart said it is using the headsets to train within three key areas: new technology, compliance, and soft skills like empathy and customer service.

Walmart said on Wednesday that it is providing Oculus Go virtual reality headsets to all of its US stores as part of a nationwide expansion of a VR-based employee training program. The big box retailer first experimented with VR in its training academies a year ago and now says the program has proved its worth, with employees reporting boosts to confidence and technology familiarity after training on the headsets.

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Starting next month, Walmart will ship four Oculus Go headsets to every Walmart supercenter and two units to all of its smaller Neighborhood Market stores. The headsets will give employees access to 45 activity-based modules created by VR software company STRIVR.

All told, more than 17,000 Oculus Go headsets will be in stores by the end of this year, and every employee will have access to the training programs.

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Walmart said it is using the headsets to train within three key areas: new technology, compliance, and soft skills like empathy and customer service. With the technology training, Walmart is aiming to prepare employees for the wave of in-store technology it's rolling out as part of its overall digital strategy.

"VR training is particularly helpful for learning new tech," the company wrote on a blog post. "In a pilot test this summer, 10 stores used VR for training on new Pickup Tower units in their stores. VR is allowing associates to be trained before the towers are even installed - no teachers required. This will be key as Walmart continues to roll out new tech to stores."

Workplace training is considered one of the most promising areas where virtual reality can make a push into the enterprise. VR headsets are still maligned on the consumer side for their long list of problems and limitations, but workplace training is a bright spot where VR is not only practical but also potentially more effective than training via humans or basic computer programs and apps.

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In Walmart's case study, they found that employees benefited by the ability to make mistakes in a safe environment, and came away with skills and confidence unique to this type of experience.

"Walmart was one of the first companies to benefit from VR's ability to enrich employee education, and its applications will only grow from here," said Andy Mathis, Oculus' head of business partnerships. "What makes it so compelling is that costly, difficult, or otherwise-impossible scenarios and simulations become not only possible, but immediately within reach."

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