Protecting retail workers with VR-based robbery training

VR view with a scenario about preparing for a potential robbery in a retail store

Protecting retail workers with VR-based robbery training

The litany of incidents is alarming. From standard-issue theft to armed robberies to mass shootings, rarely a day goes by that retail workers somewhere in the U.S. aren’t subject to danger. Few signed up for their jobs to be in the frontlines of violence and crime. Yet, too often, they find themselves there.

The New York Times says that FBI-reported assaults in grocery stores increased 63% from 2018 to 2020 alone —75% in the case of convenience stores! 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 potential scenes of aggression — 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 the actual on-the-ground experience that cements learning. Memorizing protocols and anticipating how one would react in a grave situation is no match for real, lived experience. That’s where Virtual Reality (VR) can be a game-changer. VR-based employee training, or Immersive Learning, is the key to giving employees a “real” experience without putting them in harm’s way and doing so in a way that’s not just effective but measurable.

Creating a culture of safety with effective robbery training

Creating a consistent culture of safety in stores 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 and cared for. Millennials and Gen Z folks now entering the workforce are particularly attracted to companies that offer 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 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. 

Explore Immersive Learning & Situational Awareness

Immersive Learning modules 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.

How one wireless carrier conducted robbery training with Immersive Learning

“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 Global L&D, Verizon

Verizon brought Immersive Learning into its L&D organization to provide robbery training to retail store associates 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:

  1. Store-opening armed robberies
  2. Mid-day snatch-and-grab robberies
  3. 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 absorption and 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.


felt prepared when put in dangerous situations

In Verizon’s case, 97% of those who went through the Immersive Learning safety training felt better prepared for the potential of a dangerous situation on the job.

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 those who went through the Immersive Learning safety training felt better prepared for the potential of a dangerous situation on the job.

Other companies using VR to protect employees

Walmart, too, has instituted Immersive Learning training 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 the active shooter situation in 2019 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.”

Safety training is only 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 subjects, 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, for example, uses Immersive Learning to train employees on how to spot safety issues in the field. Chipotle has teamed with Strivr to create custom food safety training modules so employees can be trained on food safety without it impacting open hours of operation. JetBlue uses Immersive Learning to train ground technicians on how to properly inspect planes without the expense of taking real planes out of commission. 

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 office employees and frontline folks 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 Ebook

Safe and prepared: Why 97% of employees are more prepared with Immersive Learning

Safety training is high stakes learning and a critical concern for every company. Virtual Reality has proven to be highly effective at driving home safety procedures while also training employees with confidence and skill. In this e-book, you’ll learn how VR trains employees for real safety scenarios in a way that’s affordable, scalable and safe.

Download Now

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