Walmart gives employees VR combat training for holiday rush

Black Friday was a full contact sport. Walmart helped its employees brace for the madness with VR.

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Walmart is doubling down on its enterprise VR training experiment over the holidays. According to insiders, the company has trained associates across stores using VR technology to prepare for the holiday rush.

That follows the announcement in September that Walmart was acquiring more than 17,000 Oculus Go headsets for its associate training by the end of the year. It's one of the largest VR-based employee training programs in the world, and the industry has been watching it like a canary in a coal mine.

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According to Walmart, VR allows its associates to interact with simulated customers in ways they wouldn't be able to with pictures or words on paper. At its best, VR can simulate a realistic environment that's also a safe place to learn and make mistakes in real time.

Black Friday, which is commonly described as a lawless siege on brick & mortar stores by deal-obsessed patrons, is a good example of a high stress situation that's difficult to prepare for with traditional employee training. Walmart evidently gave some of its associates a simulated taste of situations they might encounter on the busiest retail day in the country.

The Oculus headsets Walmart uses are running VR software from STRIVR. Reportedly, the program is going well. According to a spokesperson, the company has seen an increase in training test scores between 5 percent and 10 percent when using virtual reality training over computer-based learning and classroom settings.

Also: How to use virtual reality for employee training: 3 VR platforms to check out TechRepublic

There's also been an anecdotal spillover effect. Associates who interact with and watch other associates trained in VR also show improvement in certain customer relations skills.

So far, Walmart has created more than 40 training modules with STRIVR. The modules focus primarily on soft skills, areas like empathy and customer service, which are difficult to both teach and test using traditional methods. Modules are three to five minutes each.

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