Walmart using gaming technology, phone apps to train store management

by Kim Souza ( 582 views 

Employees at Walmart are now using their smart phones to better manage the sales and inventory in their departments with a new suite of apps developed by the retail giant. 

Walmart store managers will have a new training tool in February as the retail giant unveils “Spark City” a simulation-style video game that puts players in charge of a Walmart dry grocery department. The game is available in Apple’s App Store and on Google Play. It was overseen by Daniel Shepherd, content creator for Walmart training academies.

The game simulates tasks that have to be done in the backroom and the sales floor while also dealing with random events such as customer questions, spills and vendor visits. As a player increases their score they are allowed to advance to roles of increased responsibility.

“We knew we needed a way for associates to learn in a safe environment,” said Andy Trainor, senior director of Walmart Academies. “While we teach them on the sales floor still with customer interaction in a live store you’re less likely to have the freedom to make mistakes because it impacts customers.”

Shepherd said the gaming app will be used in the company’s training academies and can also be accessed in stores. The game aims to help Walmart employees understand a day in the life of an hourly supervisor. He said players design their own avatar and then use it to run their department. Walmart said roughly 250,000 employees aspiring to be department managers will use Spark City in their training beginning in February.

Shepherd said there have already been more than 104,000 downloads. He said employees and the general public have access to the game. Shepherd said management came up with the idea and he worked with a game developer to create Spark City. He said this video game tracks three key performance metrics: on shelf availability for customers; consumer satisfaction that relates to the company’s clean, fast, friendly goals; and it tracks sales.

This gaming application is just one of the ways Walmart is using technology among its store workforce. Walmart began using virtual reality in its training academies to simulate situations in stores, such as preparing to Black Friday or hazardous spills. Last year Walmart expanded the number of Oculus Go virtual reality headsets to its 4,700 stores to bring that training to the stores. Walmart said it has 17,000 headsets in its stores and typically there are four units per supercenter with neighborhood markets and discount centers getting two each.

Also last fall Walmart rolled out Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) across its stores to allow hourly store employees to be able to access Walmart’s digital network when they are on the floor. Workers previously had to go to the back of the store to obtain a handheld device. Walmart said BYOD allows employees to download a suite of apps to their personal devices.

Walmart said because employees are using their own devices, the retailer would ensure their monthly phone bills were discounted, but declined to say how much. By using the suite of services in the app, the employee could clock-in to work and check company announcements.

“BYOD basically works just like our store devices. I can pop it open when a customer needs help, look up items and find where they are in the store. But with my phone, the apps are always on me. As soon as I clock in, I can see what notes have been assigned to me and start working on them right away,” said Spencer Schmidt, a sales floor employee at a Fort Smith supercenter, one of the first stores to test the program.

Walmart said employees need not worry about personal content on their phones being shared while the app is in use. Walmart said it can see the battery level, make and model of the phone, operating system in use, corporate email and data, storage usage, carrier and phone number. The retailer cannot see personal email or data, photos or videos, voicemail, texts, web activity, list of apps or location.

”There’s a lot of things I wish I had in stores that we have now,” said Shepherd. “We didn’t do a great job training before the Academy program. This is a great example of a great tool to see the whole picture of how a day or week should go as a department manager.”

Rissa Pittman, store manager at Walmart No. 5260 in Rogers, said the suite of apps is a great benefit to her. Aside from making her employees on the sales floor smarter and better equipped to provide faster service, Pittman said her favorite app is called “PlanIt.” Pittman said this the information hub allows everyone who works in the store to stay up-to-date on company announcements.

“Running a Walmart store takes a lot of skill,” Pittman said, “and PlanIt gets us organized, prioritized and connected.”

She said PlanIt helps store managers focus on efficiency as they can help notify department managers of projects that need to be addressed and specific tasks required. She the Receiving app gives employees transparency into which products are on a specific truck, eliminating the need to manually review the manifest which takes more time.

“One of the biggest parts of great customer service is making sure the right merchandise is on the shelf when customers need it,” Pittman said. “This entire process, and making sure that it’s done right, starts in the backroom.”

Pittman also likes the Downstock app which tracks the inventory at the shelf level throughout the day. The robotic Bossa Nova shelf inventory scanner identifies low inventory or out-of-stocks and sends that information to employees through the Downstock app. Pittman said there are apps to speed up price changes and increase price accuracy. The Availability app gives employees insight into how their store is performing. It tracks out-of-stocks, specifically the exact time it occurred. This lets employees compare the store’s performance before and after the outs occur and determine its root cause — staffing issues, shelf capacity or product availability.

“Our leadership tells us all the time that we should feel empowered to become merchants in our stores,” Pittman said. “The Availability app helps associates understand their merchandise and their customers better.”

Other applications used in stores include the Sales app which gives real time sales numbers so employees can compares against the previous year, as well as a Claims app that removes the guesswork of managing returned products. Pittman said the Claims app helps stores reduce waste because they know which items can be donated to food shelters and it helps the retailer stay in compliance with its health and safety standards.