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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Health & Wellness

New Digital Health Tools Transforming Diabetes Self-Care

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are more than 30 million in the U.S. living with diabetes. That’s 1 in 11 Americans.

Perhaps even more alarming: Out of the 84 million who have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, 90% don’t know they have it. It’s a growing epidemic with a devastating physical, emotional and financial toll on our communities. And it’s because of this, there’s an ever increasing focus on diabetes prevention, treatment and education.

At one of our nationwide Wellness Day Clinics last month an individual discovered his blood glucose level was a life-threatening 530. An onsite nurse explained the consequences of the test result and he immediately went to a nearby urgent care clinic to initiate care. It is rewarding to think the work we do at Walmart can help people live healthier and even save lives in some cases.

Perhaps most critical for diabetic patients, however, is access to affordable supplies. That’s why I’m excited about our exclusive line of important, everyday essentials. From meters to test strips and insulin, patients are able to save considerably on the items they need most. Because they can afford to test more regularly, this means our patients can better manage their care, and ultimately, lead healthier lives.

Recently, we expanded our line of ReliOn diabetic supplies to include the $18.98 ReliOn Premier BLU blood glucose monitoring system. It features Bluetooth technology that connects the meter to an app on your iOS/Android smartphone, eliminating the need for paper logbooks. With a couple of taps, you can also share your results with your care provider. $14.98 ReliOn Premier Voice is a bilingual (English and Spanish) blood glucose monitoring system that provides audible testing results and is excellent for the blind and low vision diabetic patient. Both of these tools capture clinical data and offer analytics, providing patients with actionable feedback. Most importantly, you don’t have to sacrifice quality for price. All ReliOn blood glucose monitoring systems meet the same strict FDA accuracy standards as the more expensive brands.

The health and safety of our patients is a critical priority, and I love sharing how our team is helping to make a difference in the communities we serve by actively helping them identify and manage their diabetes. Whether it’s through advanced technology, affordable everyday necessities, healthy food, even fitness gear, Walmart is a one-stop-shop for diabetes management. I’m proud of that.

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Put a Pin on It: The Tiny Tokens Embodying Walmart Pride

There’s a certain sense of pride that comes from graduating – whether it’s from high school or college, it’s a familiar experience for many.

You can see that very same pride in Walmart Academy graduates as they walk across a stage and are recognized for their dedication. They’ve not only set aside time to learn the best ways to serve their customers – they’ve taken advantage of an opportunity that can help set them on a clear path.

Ayreann Luedders, a senior director with the Walmart Academy program, gets to see the graduates’ transformation first hand. “When my team gets to the locations to help set up for graduation, at first the associates don’t know what to expect,” Ayreann said. “By the end they realize, ‘oh, this is a big deal,’ and you can see it on their faces. They are just so proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

To celebrate these achievements, each Academy location’s inaugural graduating class designs a pin that’s given to each graduating class thereafter. They commemorate everything from specific events to individual stores and their communities to pieces of Walmart’s past.

Here’s a look at a few of these pins and the stories behind them.

Pontotoc, Mississippi
This Academy graduation’s theme was all about Walmart history, from serving MoonPies (Sam Walton’s favorite volume producing item) to the regional manager dancing in a hula skirt like Sam once did on Wall Street. This pin shows the Walton’s 5 & 10 as a symbol of where we started, and the words “Pathway to the Future” to show where their training will take them.

St. Petersburg, Florida
With this store just steps from the beach, this pin features the Florida shoreline and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This group’s graduation ceremony even included a massive sandcastle at the front of their store.

Friendswood, Texas
You might find a rocket scientist at this store – it’s less than 10 miles from NASA’s Johnson Space Center. To show off their unique location, they decided to use a space shuttle orbiting the Earth within the shape of Texas.

Tracy, California
The elements on this pin showcase the history of their community. The triangle shape refers to Tracy’s location inside the three interstates that border the city, and the bear is a nod to their state flag. The train represents their more than century-long history as a major railway hub.

Edmond, Oklahoma
What makes this pin special is that it comes from the 100th Academy Walmart opened. To commemorate that milestone, CEO Doug McMillon came to speak, making it even more special for the graduates.

Dulles, Virginia
Using a simple backdrop of Virginia’s state flower, this pin represents a store that is anything but ordinary. It serves a diverse community, and over 80 native languages are spoken by our associates there.

“It was through the graduation ceremonies that I had this epiphany moment that we’re changing lives in what we’re doing through Walmart Academy,” said Tina Kurtz, a director with the Walmart Academy program. “It gave them an entirely new perspective on their jobs – understanding how doing things a certain way helps. It’s meaningful, life-changing work.”

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Knock, Knock … Who’s There? Your Walmart Grocery Delivery

It’s 10 a.m., and it already feels like a long day. You know your schedule is only going to get busier. How will you get dinner on the table if you don’t have time to stop for groceries?

We have a new answer for you: Don’t worry. Keep doing what you’re doing. We can deliver those groceries to your front door.

By the end of the year, this option will be a reality for more than 40% of U.S. households. Online grocery delivery, previously a test project in six metro areas, will soon be a service we’ll offer across 100 metro areas. We’ll be using more than 800 of our stores to fulfill orders. That’s an impressive number, but it’s more about where you deliver to than where you deliver from – millions of customers will now have access to this time-saver.

Here’s how it works:

  1. To order, customers visit Walmart.com/grocery or go to the existing Walmart Grocery app to build an online basket and place an order, selecting the most convenient time for the order to be delivered.
  2. That’s when one of our 18,000 personal shoppers gets to work. Based on the delivery time, he or she will begin picking items, scanning them along the way to ensure an accurate and complete order. (By the way, we’ve given these associates special training to pick the best of the best for your order, especially when it comes to fresh meat and produce.)
  3. Finally, our team will request a delivery service to come to the store, pick up customers’ orders, and take them directly to their desired location.

We’re excited about this new offering, which is simply the latest result of our ongoing work to help make shopping easier. Whether it’s ordering one item online and picking it up the same day in our stores, pulling your car into our parking lot to collect a grocery pickup order, or now ordering – and receiving – groceries at your convenience, you’ve now got so many choices to fit your needs. We’re learning from Walmart teams across the globe and building on the best parts of our business to help put some time back on your calendar. Through technology, great stores and our awesome team of associates, we’re working hard to serve you whenever and however you want.

I love being part of a team that’s constantly thinking about how to bring out the best of Walmart. It’s even better that, for a lot of our customers, this news means we’re now bringing it literally to your door.



Eden: The Tech That’s Bringing Fresher Groceries to You

What’s for dinner tonight?

No matter the answer, there are some givens: It has to taste good, be good for you, and be affordable. But when you’re shopping with limited time, how can you be sure you’re buying the freshest apples, milk that will last, or perfectly ripe bananas?

We think our new intelligent food system called Eden can help. Developed in just six months by our own associates, it is improving the quality and flow of fresh groceries from farm to shelf.

Eden is the result of a friendly competition, or hackathon, among the engineers on our fresh merchandising teams. Our goal was to figure out the best way to keep track of food freshness all the way from the farms to our stores. The winning team determined that building a digital library of food standards was the answer. So they gathered the many chapters of food product specifications set by the USDA, layered on Walmart’s own rigorous product standards, and combined all of this information with more than a million photos to create a freshness algorithm that prioritizes the flow of perishable goods worldwide.

As a result, Josh Bohling, senior designer of associate experience design, and I have filed two patents for Walmart, and Eden is now the cornerstone of Walmart’s move to improve the quality of fresh produce for sale to our customers.

Eden leverages sophisticated technologies such as machine learning, but we’ve made it simple enough for all of our associates to use. Eden’s suite of apps helps Walmart associates better monitor and care for fresh fruits and vegetables that are waiting to be shipped from distribution centers to stores. That could mean more efficiently ripening bananas, predicting the shelf life of tomatoes while they’re still on the vine, or prioritizing the flow of green grocery items from the back of the store to the shelf.

For example, take everybody’s favorite, the banana. This tasty fruit is consistently among the best-selling grocery items in Walmart’s U.S. stores. Bananas travel from seven countries in Latin America to over 4,000 stores in the U.S. On such a long road, what happens to those bananas if temperatures in the container trucks exceed acceptable ranges? In the future, Eden will be able to recalculate the freshness factor and re-route the shipment immediately. The bananas end up in a closer store to optimize freshness, consumers take home a delicious bunch, and everyone is happy.

Eden also helps eliminate food waste. Our goal is to eliminate $2 billion in waste over the next five years. Already, Eden is being used in 43 distribution centers and has prevented $86 million in waste from happening.

What was once a manual inspection process is now more efficient and thorough than ever. We’re proud to say that we’re the very first retailer who has digitized this entire process. Thanks to the power of technology, we’re able to bring you and your loved ones the freshest food, even faster.