Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will soon be using virtual reality to help train its employees on topics like management and customer service.
VR instruction will be used at each of the retailer’s 200 “Walmart Academy” training centers in the U.S. by the end of the year, helping educate the estimated 150,000 employees that will go through the program each year. Each location will have an Oculus Rift headset and gaming PC showcasing a collection of VR training content.
The virtual reality instruction Walmart will be using is entirely 360-degree video-based and will include interactive on-screen cues asking trainees to make decisions after encountering various situations. These scenarios may be related to customer service, management or seasonal situations like encountering the Black Friday rush in VR.
Training experiences will range from around thirty seconds to about five minutes and are meant to supplement traditional instruction.
The startup building these training experiences is STRIVR Labs, a relatively low-profile VR company that had previously focused largely on developing VR training for collegiate and professional athletics programs.
So, how did a deal like this get put together? Well, it all started when Brock McKeel, a senior director of operations at Walmart, saw the University of Arkansas football team using VR experiences built by STRIVR during practice. Following what the startup’s CEO Derek Belch referred to as a “fortuitous inbound,” STRIVR met with the retailer and launched a pilot program at the end of January at thirty of its training centers. During this time, the companies worked together to determine what virtual reality experiences made sense for Walmart in a training scenario, Belch says.
“We don’t do anything that is not a good use case for VR,” he said. “We have experiences for the lowest-level bagger all the way up to the store management.”
Now, a few months later the deal between the two has been signed and STRIVR is already gathering interest from new customers, including a financial service company and a major auto manufacturer.
STRIVR Labs is notable in that it’s a profitable virtual reality startup. Belch wouldn’t talk exact numbers but noted that over the past two years the company has done “several million in revenue,” noting that the exact number was north of $10 million. The company has raised $5 million in funding from Signia Venture Partners, BMW i Ventures, Advancit Capital and Presence Capital.
“When you have literally the biggest company in the world as your first enterprise customer, that’s kind of a big deal,” Belch told TechCrunch.