Walmart Is Hip to VR and You Should Be, Too

 Vr Image

In retail, there are two words that can make the most hardened of sales associates shudder: Black Friday. Insane hours, inevitable spills and even occasional violence – how do you prepare new employees for such a grueling shift? If you’re the world’s largest retailer, the answer is technology. Last week Walmart announced that it is now using Oculus headsets to make its training dreams a virtual reality. 

Partnering with VR development company STRIVR, Walmart has created realistic scenarios (like that Black Friday brawl) that trainees can experience in virtual reality. During the VR simulation, the instructor and class follow along on a video screen and offer critique. After piloting the technology in 30 Walmart Academy facilities, the retailer plans to implement VR headsets in all 200 training centers by the end of this year. In addition to Black Friday prep, the simulations aim to improve customer service and operational efficiency. 

High-tech ROI hack? Yes, please. 

VR isn’t just a cool way to amp up your internal efforts, although it has been successful in training programs for industries like medical, oil and automotive. Research indicates that more than 70 percent of consumers view brands using VR in a positive light, with over half stating that they are more likely to buy from these brands. Even people who have never experienced VR showed an interest in giving it a try – 65 percent, in fact, which leaves you with a pretty engaged audience

How else can brands use VR? 

Some brands are investing in fancy VR equipment, others are sending users their own Google Cardboard devices, but whatever the medium, VR has the potential to be incredibly impactful. Not to mention how savvy you’ll sound when you bust out nifty measurement terms like gaze-through rate (GTR), which, incidentally, is way higher than the average CTRs on mobile and desktop ads. Brands are turning to VR for: 

Trade shows – Let’s be honest, part of going to a trade show is one-upping your competitors in order to get more booth traffic and, in turn, more leads. Anyone can demo a product on an iPad (that’s so 2011.) Why not create buzz by having the newest, most exciting technology that also just happens to deliver a more engaging product demo?

Storytelling – Wouldn’t you love to tell an intensely emotional story to an utterly immersed audience? Essentially, that’s exactly what VR empowers you to do. When wearing a headset, the user is committing to your message on a deeper level, without the typical distractions. Plus, the technology is novel enough that its sheer coolness boosts your story’s staying power. 

Fundraising – If you’re a grantmaking entity, a nonprofit (with a healthy budget) or just a compassionate brand that is way into corporate giving, consider the emotional punch that VR can add to your campaign. TOMS used VR to let users  “hang out” with charming kiddos in a remote village in Peru (heartstrings, consider yourselves tugged). Häagen-Dazs drew consumers into its corporate cause, the plight of the honeybee. What could VR do for your mission? 

Fear not, we’ve tested the technology for you 

Vr Experiment 

Playing games on thousands of dollars worth of bleeding-edge VR equipment is a really tough job, but someone has to do it, amirite? Luckily, our friend Ann DeVilbiss, creative director at Digital Illusions, let us try out her personal collection. Here’s the skinny on what we sampled: 

Oculus Rift – This is a true VR experience, enclosed and powerful. It features position tracking so that your VR world can move right along with you. Just keep in mind, you need to stay connected to a PC.  

HTC Vive – This headset provides VR-leaning mixed reality. With the ability to go wireless and add a PC backpack, it allows you to move around as much as you please, while an external camera maps the room and sensors track your position. Its headset was the comfiest, too. 

Microsoft HoloLens – Unlike the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, this is actually AR-leaning mixed reality with the ability to see through the lens for a totally sci-fi manipulation of your space. A 100% self-contained unit, it also maps the room and tracks the user. Oh, and the HoloLens is pretty badass for using a gesture-based system rather than controllers. Before you whip out your credit card, we should say this one’s only available to developers at this point. But keep an eye out! 

Samsung Gear VR – With a $99 price tag and the ability to work with Samsung smartphones, this is a compelling option and the easiest VR entry point for new users. It does have file-size limitations – which means simpler animations – but with a little creativity it can still support some really fun apps. 

Wearer beware!

Before you slip one of these über-cool headsets on your noggin – or on your customer’s – just know that a small percentage of people experience virtual reality sickness. With symptoms similar to motion sickness, this temporary condition occurs because your brain is experiencing sensory conflict (cue the nausea). Unfortunately, you can trust me on this one. While all of my coworkers were battling invisible enemies and scrawling expensive doodles, I was trying to keep my lunch safely in my belly. No fair! 

Interested in hearing more about our VR trial and the brand-building ideas it sparked? Get in touch! 

How have you experimented with VR? Tell us in the comments! 

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