The rise of e-commerce and supply chain challenges have profoundly impacted retail and pushed the industry toward more innovation and digital transformation. Included in that disruption is the transformation of the retail employee experience.
With ever-evolving standards for health and safety, with ever-escalating requirements for managing the customer experience, it’s critical to improve the hiring, onboarding, training, and upskilling of your employees.
VR: Taking training to the next level of effectiveness
The pandemic redefined grocery employees as essential workers. This redefinition, and recognition, of these employees come with increased expectations, for the employees and the retail business. In fact, these expectations underscore the need for more frequent and more effective training methods.
Grocery store owners and managers learned that their employee training would have to effectively address three key areas:
- The need for workers to do more – to be more productive, more self-sufficient, and cope with more stress. For many grocers, volume has increased, but staffing has not. The importance of workers understanding their environment, how to maximize productivity and safety, under less direct supervision grows daily.
- Enhancing the customer experience. Grocery employees need more skills than stocking and running the register. Customer service, as well as the quality of products, and checkout speed, comprise the customer experience, and that experience is the new basis for customer loyalty.
- Building a positive culture where the grocer treats employees well and provides them with the tools, the skills, and the knowledge they need to succeed. This is a culture rooted in training and communication, and empowers employees to extend that same sense of care and empathy to customers.
The most impactful way to successfully train grocery workers is Immersive Learning, a groundbreaking training methodology that combines Virtual Reality (VR) with advanced learning theory, data science, and spatial design.
VR is an effective retail simulator because it transports the learner to the sales floor and affords them the opportunity to engage with customers they may encounter, handle difficult encounters and emergency situations, and quickly upskill on new processes and technologies they may use at work.
VR is more than just content inside a headset, it provides critical benefits for all retail companies, especially grocers, from high-stakes, high-impact situations to everyday operations. Employers have seen:
- Accelerated proficiency in their jobs.
- Improved operations at scale.
- Engaged employees.
- Unique insights into behavior and skills.
Using VR for training has helped prepare over 1 million employees at key grocery chains around the world, including Sprouts Farmers Market and Walmart.
Here are the top nine Immersive Learning applications that benefit employees, companies, and customer experience to bring business impact to grocery stores.
Realistic job expectations for smooth onboarding
Before ever stepping into the grocery store environment, Immersive Learning enables candidates and new hires with first-person experience “on the floor.” 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 and onboarding process helps grocers recruit and retain more informed, committed employees.
It can also make an important impact on worker retention. While moderate turnover is expected for most frontline roles, using VR for grocery training can help increase retention by getting employees enfranchised in company culture and values right from the start.
increase in employee retention for logistics employees after getting a VR job preview
Faster time to proficiency
The first day on the job can be intimidating, especially for customer-facing grocery workers. Between logistics, operations, and customer interactions there’s a lot to learn, usually in a pretty chaotic environment, quickly. Using VR for training offers a lifelike simulation of your store for accurate and comprehensive operational training.
Examples might include training on wet wall, checkout counter, stocking shelves, or packing online orders. One Fortune 500 grocer trained new distribution center workers and increased time to proficiency in the warehouse role by 50%.
Employees can practice in Virtual Reality without impacting a busy 7-day-a-week operation, building situational awareness and confidence.
Enhanced customer service and empathy
Virtual Reality puts grocery workers into the lives of customers beyond the store to better empathize with a wide variety of life situations and personality types. Emotions are running higher than ever these days, and using VR for grocery training helps employees walk in the shoes of their customers, so they’re better prepared to provide excellent, empathetic service.
When Walmart added a VR component to its beKIND empathy training, employees jumped at the chance to practice their soft skills, achieving 100% of their adoption goal in just a few weeks, despite not being a mandatory training.
Handling difficult conversations with employees
With Immersive Learning, 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. A key benefit of using VR for training is that they can play back their response to the situation, so they’re more aware of their language and the impact they have on employees.
When you’re in that headset, you’re so immersed. You feel like you’re there.– Cindy Chikahisa, former VP Store Operations, Sprouts
Handling emergency situations
Training store workers how to react in rare emergency situations such as store robberies or an active shooter 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.
Using VR for training allows them to experience the critical steps of de-escalating a high-risk moment in order to create situational awareness and emotional preparedness. Most importantly, it helps keep them safe.
Rollout of new technology and/or processes
Introducing new technology to the grocery floor presents a conundrum. Mastery requires practice, but getting that practice with real customers can compromise service. Using VR for grocery training, companies can realistically simulate practice before workers hit the store floor so they’re confident and prepared.
It also helps grocers get the most out of technology innovation and competitive advantage with a quicker and more consistent rollout.
Walmart reduced an 8-hour training module to 15-minutes – 96% less time. Watch the video below to learn more.
Preparing for the holiday rush
Any holiday season can be a very stressful environment for all grocery workers. With grocery training in VR, 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, preserve the customer experience, and protect customer loyalty.
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
Distribution centers and logistics
For distribution center training, 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 practices 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.
Grocers tend to have a lot of data on their customers, but very little on their employees.
Assessment in VR provides a powerful predictive analytics model that combines both decision data and immersive attention data from VR training. Management 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
The benefits of using VR for grocery training
As you’ve read, there are a variety of ways leading grocery companies are using VR for grocery training.