The rise of e-commerce has profoundly impacted retail and pushed the industry toward more innovation and digital transformation. Today we see another level of disruption in motion: the transformation of retail employee experience. With a low unemployment rate and increasing turnover, it’s critical to improve the hiring, onboarding, training and upskilling of your employees. The most impactful way to do this is Immersive Learning, a groundbreaking training methodology that combines Virtual Reality (VR) with advanced learning theory, data science and spatial design. Immersive Learning has helped train over 1 million retail employees (and counting) in 2019 at key Fortune 1000 companies like Verizon, Chipotle and Walmart.
Here are the top nine Immersive Learning applications that benefit both employees and customer experience to bring business impact to retailers.
1. Realistic job expectations for smooth onboarding
Before ever stepping into a new work environment, Immersive Learning enables candidates and new hires with first-person experience on the job site. By placing them in scenarios that will quickly become familiar in their role, they get a sense of company setting and culture and begin to acclimate to their new positions. A realistic job preview helps retailers recruit and retain more informed, committed employees. Using VR to get employees enfranchised in company culture and values right from the start leads to a uniform brand experience for customers.
2. Faster proficiency for store operations
The first day on the job can be intimidating for frontline employees. Between logistics, operations and customer interactions there’s a lot to learn, usually in a pretty chaotic environment, quickly. VR training offers a lifelike simulation of stores and restaurants — down to seating areas, service counters and food-prep stations — for accurate and comprehensive operational training. Retail employees can practice in Immersive Learning without impacting a busy 7-day-a-week operation, building situational awareness and confidence before facing customers.
3. Customer service and empathy
Virtual reality puts frontline employees into the lives of customers beyond the store, to better empathize with a wide variety of life situations and personality types. A customer might be taking a lot of time to count change while the line gets longer behind him — but what if those coins are all he has left in his weekly budget? VR helps employees walk in the shoes of their customers so they’re better prepared to provide excellent, empathetic service. This application is particularly useful in the call center, where agents tend to speak with the most frustrated customers.
[Immersive Learning] gives you perspective on what the customer might be feeling when they are calling.”
— Verizon employee
4. Handling difficult conversations with employees
With Immersive Learning, retail store managers can practice interpersonal skills and leadership tactics to better handle difficult situations and tough conversations. They learn how to recognize and respond to situations in appropriate ways that diffuse problems and circumvent challenges. And because they can play back their response to the situation, they’re more aware of their language and the impact they have on employees.
5. Emergency situations
Training store workers how to react in rare emergency situations such as store robberies has always been tricky. You can present them with a list of protocols and conduct role-playing exercises, but it’s impossible to predict how an employee might react in a real-life emergency situation — except with VR, which gives employees real-time experience of armed robbery.
VR allows them to experience the critical steps of de-escalating a high-risk moment in order to create situational awareness and emotional preparedness.
I would describe this as probably one of the most emotional trainings that I’ve ever experienced.”
— Urooj, General Manager, Verizon store
6. Rollout out of new equipment
Introducing new technology and equipment to the retail floor presents a conundrum. Mastery requires practice, but obtaining that practice live in front of customers compromises service. VR can realistically simulate practice before associates hit the store floor so they’re confident in their skills with the equipment. It also helps retailers get the most out of technology innovation and competitive advantage with quicker and more consistent rollout.
Walmart reduced an 8-hour training module to 15-minutes – 96% less time. Watch video below to learn more.
7. Preparing for the holiday rush
Holiday season can be a very stressful environment for retail employees. With Immersive Learning in retail, companies can create or capture real-life experience of retail floors and checkout lines packed with customers, chaos and stress and help employees get practically and emotionally prepared without interrupting the business. This helps avoid any potential incidents and protect brand image.
How do you prepare somebody for the holiday peak season, that rush of a busy store and all of the action going on around you? With this, we can really prepare these leaders.”
— Senior Director of Central Operations, Fortune 100 retailer
8. Package handling and logistics
For shipping and receiving departments, VR can help instruct trainees on proper package handling techniques. Learners experience the virtual dock environment while being guided through proper methods such as how to open a trailer, use a load stand and connect a conveyer. VR can also teach proper lifting techniques and best practice for moving objects from unloading rollers to conveyor belts and vice versa. As the learner participates in activities that will be used on the job, they better identify improper methods and understand the consequences. This is critical in an environment where worker safety is paramount and operational efficiency crucial, but turnover tends to be high, so it’s key to be able to onboard quickly and thoroughly.
9. Candidate assessment
Assessment in VR provides a powerful predictive analytics model that combines both decision data and immersive attention data from VR training. Companies can better understand how a candidate might perform in a given job, or how an existing employee would be suited to a new role. Immersive Learning can indicate how a candidate might prioritize different tasks, communicate with co-workers in times of conflict and exercise a variety of leadership skills. Examining explicit responses to decision points created in simulation helps predict which candidates would perform well in real-life.
What we’re trying to do is understand the capacity of the individual from a leadership perspective and how they view situations.”
— Drew Holler, Sr. Vice President of Associate Experience, Walmart