Several recent Walmart technology developments, including virtual reality-based training for store associates, shelf-scanning robots and grocery pick-up, are expected to play a significant role for the retailer this holiday season, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal.
Virtual reality technology from a start-up called Strivr already was being used by the retailer in recent weeks to help Walmart employees prepare Black Friday by showing them virtual scenes of throngs of customers entering their stores and requiring assistance, according to MIT Technology Review.
The report comes a month after Walmart said it was expanding its use of robots in more stores to scan shelves in hope of optimizing inventory management processes that usually have been performed on a manual basis by human employees.
At a Walmart Store No. 8 event last month the big retailer showed off how big it is on virtual reality and how it may affect the shopping experience. Walmart first announced it had been testing Strivr's VR technology in employee training programs in June, and also said at the time that the technology would be used in potentially 200 Walmart training academies by the end of this year. The Jacksonville-based report suggests that the expansion is moving along as planned.
Using VR scenes to help prepare store staff for the Black Friday onslaught is an inspired idea. There really is nothing like the crowds that come out for the biggest sales of the year, and associates are more used to the typical ebb and flow of store traffic may not be ready for it. Walmart seemingly uses the technology to drive home a variety of training points in terms of how to deal with real customers and for the holiday rush, as reported by the MIT Technology Review, they get to see what a stampeding horde of deal seeking shoppers look like, courtesy of Strivr.
Other retailers have started to use virtual and augmented reality technologies in similar capacities for employee training purposes, but Walmart's rapid expansion of its program, and its use of the technology to better prepare store associates for the holiday rush makes this program the one to watch right now. If customer satisfaction regarding engagements with store employees show measurable improvement, many more retailers are likely to go the same route.
Meanwhile, the recent expansion of Walmart's use of shelf-scanning robots to more stores also appears to have come at an opportune time. The robots are assigned to undertake in-store inventory surveys that human store associates otherwise would perform manually. The intended effect is that store associates are supposed to have more time on their hands to spend directly engaging with customers, an especially important notion with the holiday season upon us.
Such technologies should only continue to enhance the customer experience at Walmart stores in the future. They aren't just making an appearance for the holidays, but as other recent reports have suggested, the busy holiday shopping period can serve as an important proving ground for new technology innovations. Just as there is no busier time for retailers, there also is no other time when the store becomes something like a brightly-lit stage showcasing the promise of what retailers can deliver.