At the very beginning, a new technology is simply a thought. It’s an idea in our head. Wouldn’t it be great if we could build a world that we’re fully immersed in? A medium that’s not text and not a flat screen, but something that places us somewhere else entirely? A simple thought like that, combined with some motivation and possibly some money, encourages us to start experimenting. We start piecing together things in real life until it somewhat resembles what we had in mind.

Creating something new is inherently playful. We’re experimenting, which is simply playing around with different ideas, concepts, and things, trying to combine them in unique ways. As such, it should come as no surprise that many of the first applications of a new technology are games. The gaming industry is frequently the first to adopt or make full use of a new technology.

Think of smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy Note10 has an Octa-Core processor, an ultra-crisp AMOLED display, and twice the amount of memory when compared to my Surface laptop. The gaming industry is at least partially responsible for driving smartphone specs up every year. After all, people want to play PUBG Mobile or Fortnite in full graphical glory.

Playing PUBG Mobile on its highest settings requires a powerful smartphone

The gaming industry has been an eager early adopter of virtual reality as well. In fact, gaming companies such as Nintendo, PlayStation, and Valve have developed their own VR products. As a result, it’s hard not to associate VR with gaming and, more broadly, with the entertainment industry. And that creates a problem…

For however much gaming is useful to drive the development and adoption of new technology, it also makes it more difficult to see the applications of a new technology beyond gaming. Case in point: VR. While much has been written about VR’s applicability in healthcare and real estate, it remains a challenge to convince people of the many benefits of VR that go beyond gaming, for companies of any size.

Thankfully, a few companies are leading the way when it comes to VR adoption, showing the world that VR isn’t simply for gaming, and it certainly isn’t a gimmick. In fact, VR can be used in many different ways, some of which can be quite surprising too.

How Walmart Uses VR

It’s hard to overestimate the size of Walmart. They’re the world’s largest company by revenue (around $500 billion) and the world’s largest private employer, with a staggering 2.2 million ‘associates’ (which is how they refer to their employees). They have over 11,000 stores and clubs in 27 different countries, operating under 55 different names. The company is an absolute giant.

Walmart is known for its low prices

And yet, despite its size, Walmart has been an eager adopter of VR. In September 2018, the company ordered 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to ship to every US branch of its stores. They have been using VR in their Academy Training Centers, which is where Walmart teaches its associates how to best handle certain events (such as Black Friday). 

Previously, the company used traditional means of teaching, such as videos, text, and PowerPoint, but the company has found that VR training improves employee confidence and boosts test scores even for the associates who simply watch others go through the VR training. This finding comes as no surprise, as previous research has shown that retention and engagement are higher with VR than they are with video.

Ever since their big Oculus Go order, almost a million Walmart associates have gone through some type of VR training. The company even said it’s had a positive impact on its earnings, one of the reasons why Walmart has been expanding the use of VR to train its employees. Now, instead of flying tens of thousands of people to Texas for a training conference, Walmart associates can be trained in a standardized way, wherever they are, whenever works for the managers of a specific store.

But Walmart doesn’t just use VR for training its employees. It also uses VR to understand which associate is eligible for a promotion. Previously, seeking a promotion at Walmart required an extensive vetting process with in-person interviews and detailed, paper-based assessments. That paper-based assessment is now being replaced with standardized tests on an Oculus Go headset.

Those tests can range from dealing with a disgruntled customer to cleaning up spills to deciding which task to prioritize first. It reveals the leadership capabilities of an associate and their ability to deal with difficult situations. It also removes some of the inherent bias in Walmart’s internal hiring process.

VR training to identify misplaced items

Of course, this is only one data point to determine whether someone should be promoted or not. The final decision is still made by the hiring director. But it’s nonetheless an important indicator of how VR can be used in creative, useful ways.

Walmart is Only One Example

While Walmart is one of the biggest names to adopt VR, it’s not the only company that’s increasingly using VR to improve its internal processes. Fortune 500 companies such as Fidelity, Chipotle, and JetBlue Airways have all started using VR to train their employees. 

It’s not an easy process yet. VR is still a fledgling technology that needs to grow. A company such as OneBonsai can do much of the heavy lifting by creating the required VR simulations and teach you the best practices to make the most out of your investment in VR. You don’t need to be the size of Walmart to implement cost-effective VR solutions that solve some of your more difficult problems.