Opportunity

From Football to Retail: Virtual Reality Debuts in Associate Training

Inspiration can come from surprising places. Take college football, for instance.

You’d probably never guess that one of Walmart’s newest training tools got its start from an associate watching the University of Arkansas football team practice. But that’s exactly what happened.

Brock McKeel, senior director of central operations, saw how the athletes were interacting with the virtual reality (VR) technology during practice, putting them in real-life scenarios to test their skills and reactions. He talked with the team and one of the coaches – all confirmed VR had helped them improve performance on the field. After seeing the university’s success, Brock had an idea: This could easily be applied to our Walmart Academy training for store associates.

Imagine you’re a new Walmart store manager and you’ve never experienced a Black Friday. Wouldn’t it be helpful to understand the dynamics of such a busy day before you ever had to actually manage your associates and customers through it?

Using the same technology as the football team, we incorporated VR into 30 academies and we used it to train our associates to handle situations from the everyday, like managing the fresh area, to the rare, like Black Friday.

VR allows associates to experience a lifelike store environment to experiment, learn and handle difficult situations without the need to recreate disruptive incidents or disturb the customers’ shopping experience.

Ultimately, everything associates do is geared toward giving customers the best experience. Through VR, associates can see how their actions affect that. It’s helpful for associates to see mistakes in a virtual environment and know how to deal with them before they experience it in real life and don’t know what to do.

From our test, we’ve seen that associates who go through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t. Because of the promising results, we’ll be rolling out this training to all 200 of our Academy facilities by the end of 2017. That means, the over 140,000 associates who will graduate from academies each year will have VR as an integral part of that experience.

“When they said we were going to be using VR for training, I thought it was brilliant,” said Sean Gough, Academy facilitator at our Broken Arrow, Oklahoma store. “From cashier to lawn and garden, to electronics or fresh – there are just so many areas where I think this training would be so helpful.” As we test and learn from using this technology, we’re sure to find more and more ways to apply it.

When Sean first tried the VR training, he was able to virtually transport to another store and see how they were running things. It gave him a different perspective, which he felt would be great for store managers to experience. As a manager, you don’t usually have time to travel to other stores to see how things are done, but this technology would allow them to travel to a store across the country without even leaving their own store.

“I feel really proud that Walmart would invest so much in training, particularly at the level they have,” Sean said. And he is proud to play a part in this investment. As an Academy teacher, Sean helps others be leaders and experts in customer satisfaction. He enjoys seeing the associates he’s taught pass on that training, because this helps create futures for others.

Sean sees a great sense of pride from the people going through his Academy. As associates see all of the technology and enthusiasm we put into making them better, it encourages them, makes them feel good about their job – feel good about working for Walmart. Sean commented, “I think people leave my class thinking 'Walmart cares and they take care of me.'”

What’s so great about using VR? Well, it’s really easy to use – as easy as using a smartphone. It creates a passion about learning because we’re trying something new. And associates are better able to retain what they’ve learned.

Yeah, it’s cool. But it actually works. And it’s all thanks to a little football.

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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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Opportunity

Retired Store Manager Fashions Second Career Out of Dreams and Opportunity

Sometimes it’s not enough to follow your dreams. You also need someone else to see your potential.

My career at Walmart was a dream – so unanticipated! And that set me up to follow yet another dream. After nearly 20 years, I retired Feb. 17 as manager of supercenter #2914 in Massillon, Ohio, to start my own business as a fashion stylist – something I’ve been passionate about for years – and to spend more time with my precious family.

I have long had an interest in fashion, starting back when my mother was a seamstress and would create her own designs as I was growing up. Most of my wardrobe was handmade by her! I always loved how wearing something special made me feel. Working at Walmart, particularly with women, rekindled a passion in me to witness the impact of dressing well. Increased confidence, better communication, direct eye contact – we all know how that feels. Feeling positive about ourselves can be transformational.

My retail career had simple beginnings in 1997, when I was a stay-at-home mom with five small children in a single-income family. That August I was looking to get a little extra money for Christmas and applied for the first clock-in-and-out job of my life. Walmart hired me as a temporary associate despite my having dropped out of college to start a family and having zero experience in retail. I never would have dreamed I’d take a job stocking store shelves overnight and end up managing 500 people.

This company backed me every step of the way, seeing and believing in a potential I didn't recognize. One of my first store managers took a significant interest in challenging and pushing me to see opportunities that existed. It taught me how important the human touch can be.

I remember one young man who was doing a really good job as an hourly supervisor at my store. Not long after we talked about his potential, he put his job in jeopardy by clocking in late on multiple days. Instead of giving up on him, his direct supervisor asked him what was going on. He shared that his car had broken down, and with no other transportation he’d had to walk the four miles to and from the store. After hearing this, I bought him a bicycle to help put him back on the right track. He ended up going into a management program and is doing really well today.

As for me, my story has come full circle. Walmart not only gave me the acumen and process to run my own business, it also gave my husband and me the financial security to start this second phase of our lives. My baby was in kindergarten when I started my career, and now all my children are grown and college-educated. Freedom in my schedule allows me to be a stay-at-home grandma to five grandchildren.

Having been at the Massillon supercenter for the last four years, it was bittersweet to turn over my keys and the responsibility. But, I’m excited to continue being a cheerleader from the outside. The people I hired are going to go even further than I did with the belief they can have limitless careers.

Photos courtesy of Massillon Independent.

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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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