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Protecting retail workers with VR-based robbery training

Case studies
min read
Man wearing a VR headset as a large television mounted on the wall behind behind him casts the VR robbery training module he's experiencing

The New York Times says that FBI-reported assaults in grocery stores and convenience stores increased by 63% and 75%, respectively, between 2018 and 2020. From smash-and-grab thefts to armed robberies and mass shootings, the litany of incidents occuring across the U.S. retail sector is alarming.

Putting aside the greater societal question of why violence is increasing, for retail operations, keeping employees safe has to be a top priority. It comes down to putting the right protocols in place and properly training employees on how to handle dangerous, high-risk, and high-stakes situations, which are rare but not rare enough.

It’s hard to train frontline workers on how to handle a potential store robbery or shooting without actually exposing them to one in real life. Experience cements learning, and memorizing protocols for how react in a grave situation is no match for lived experience. That’s where VR can be a game-changer. VR-based safety and emergency preparedness training is the key to giving employees a life-like experience without actually putting them in harm’s way.

Creating a culture of safety with effective robbery training

Creating a consistent culture of safety in the workplace is essential. Employees are a retail company’s most important asset, and as we’ve seen over the last few years, if they don’t feel safe at work, they will leave. The Great Resignation proved that people won’t stay in jobs where they don’t feel respected or cared for. Millennials and GenZ folks are particularly attracted to companies that offer ample learning and development opportunities.

Training retail employees on the mechanics of day-to-day operations is fairly straightforward, and much of it can be done effectively with traditional methods. But rare, unpredictable safety situations such as armed robberies are much more difficult to train for because they tend to involve high emotion. Employees also don’t get the benefit of on-the-job practice as they would for basic customer service and technology skills, so they miss out on the repetitive aspect of robbery training that helps make it stick.

Immersive learning is an experiential type of training that uses VR to simulate real-world environments and scenarios. In the case of robbery training, it provides a safe container in which to practice realistic skills and responses to rare safety events. Research shows that the brain treats VR experiences just like it would treat real-life experiences. With immersive learning, employees experience realistic scenarios in a VR headset, enabling them to react as they might in a real-world situation, gaining repetitive practice in both tactical and soft skills.

Immersive learning simulations can also be experienced multiple times and at appropriate intervals to capitalize on the repetitive aspect of learning. With distributed operations, it has the added benefit of being scalable. There is no limit to the number of headsets a company can distribute to share one single immersive learning module. This means that teams distributed across the U.S. or the world can all experience effective robbery training at once.

Verizon protects & empowers frontline retail associates with armed robbery training in VR

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We had been doing a variety of classroom-type training and video training, and we found that our leaders running the stores still did not have the confidence. When faced with a robbery, they weren’t always remembering what they needed to do.
Lou Tedrick
VP of Global Learning & Development, Verizon

Verizon leveraged Strivr's immersive learning solutions to provide its 22,000+ frontline retail associates with armed robbery training at scale. Using footage from actual robberies that had occurred in Verizon retail stores and working in partnership with Strivr, the team was able to create highly realistic immersive experiences around three specific robbery scenarios:

  • Store-opening armed robberies
  • Mid-day snatch-and-grab robberies
  • Store-closing armed robberies

In the initial pilot, participants reported that their hearts raced during the modules as if they had experienced a real robbery. By repeating each immersive learning experience multiple times, they were able to repeatedly practice their reactions in a highly realistic environment, which had a high impact on learning retention. Based on the success of the pilot, Verizon rolled the immersive learning program out to all its stores.

Measuring results to better anticipate what will happen in a real situation

Within a VR headset, learners receive immediate feedback on their decisions and behaviors, which helps them improve and adapt. But immersive learning also provides specific data to the L&D team, such as where the learner’s eyes are focused during a module — key attention data.

In Verizon’s case, 97% of retail associates who completed armed robbery safety training in VR felt more confident and prepared to face similar situations in real life.

Other companies using VR to protect employees

Walmart instituted immersive learning in many areas of HR, and one particularly effective one has been active shooter training. In fact, Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon has publicly stated that training with VR helped the company’s employees handle an active shooter situation in El Paso, Texas. “There’s something about doing that through VR that helps you, in some ways, live the experience and understand the steps that you need to take in an active shooter situation,” said McMillon.

Safety training is just one of many effective applications of immersive learning, but it’s an area in which no other training methodology comes close. Immersive learning can also be used on other types of safety training initiatives, such as recognizing the unsafe behavior of co-workers and taking the appropriate steps to stop it or report it, or conditioning warehouse employees to spot hazards in the workplace.

  • Southern California Edison uses Strivr to train employees on how to spot safety issues in the field.
  • Chipotle teamed with Strivr to create custom food safety training modules for frontline employees.
  • JetBlue uses Strivr to train ground technicians on how to properly conduct aircraft inspections.

Immersive learning is particularly impactful in the world of manufacturing, where it’s critical that employees be able to move quickly and efficiently without creating hazardous situations. The balance of productivity and safety requires excellent training for warehouse workers, and VR gives them the highly realistic experiences to boost situational awareness and their knowledge of safety protocol.

How to get started with robbery training

In an ideal world, armed robberies and mass shootings become obsolete. In this world, though, they are an unfortunate, albeit rare reality for retail workers. Preparing employees with immersive training in VR is one of the best ways to protect them from unforeseen dangers they face in the workplace and to demonstrate that employees are a company’s number-one most important asset.

As we move back toward hybrid and in-person work post-pandemic, some organizations are using pre-built VR training modules to help protect frontline workers in active shooter and other safety situations.

To learn more about how immersive learning helps with robbery training, hazard identification, and safety procedures, download the free ebook: Safe and prepared: Why 97% of employees are more prepared with immersive learning

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