Walmart uses virtual reality to train employees (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two stores in the Las Vegas area have found opposite uses for virtual reality this year — one to add people onto the sales floor, the other to remove people from the sales floor.
The Macy’s in Downtown Summerlin has added a headset to its furniture department to attract shoppers and show them what couches and other furniture look like inside a home.
Meanwhile, the Walmart near the intersection of Boulder Highway and Nellis Boulevard has added headsets to a room in the back of the store, away from the sales floor, for employees to train on how to interact with customers.
These companies are part of a growing number of retailers that experiment with new technology to directly and indirectly benefit shoppers.
The technology impresses shoppers while helping the bottom line, said Kathleen Kennedy, an associate professor of practice for retailing and consumer sciences at Arizona State University. Headsets and investment in mobile apps should help customers shop faster and more easily.
“Retailers are making significant moves to integrate stores, digital and delivery to make shopping more convenient and to capture new sales opportunities,” Kennedy said.
Inside the Boulder Highway Walmart, which houses an academy to train employees from 37 stores in the region, academy facilitator Vincent Laubach dons a headset and holds two remotes that allow him to click on menu options.
Whatever the headset wearer sees is shown on a screen for the rest of the class.
On screen, he’s approached by virtual customers asking if he can help them find particular items.
“The younger workers are so engaged by it,” Laubach said. “They’ll all discuss what they would’ve done differently with the customer.”
The Macy’s headset, which will be in 90 stores by January, helped increase furniture sales by over 60 percent and decreased returns to less than 2 percent, according to a company statement.
Retailers tend to play catch up when it comes to adopting new technology, said David Naumann, marketing vice president at BRP Consulting, which works with retailers and restaurants.
They tend to wait for someone to prove the value of new hardware or software before implementing the technology in stores.
But shoppers are increasingly demanding to shop with virtual and augmented reality — virtual reality meaning someone wears a headset and is immersed in a digital world, augmented reality meaning someone looks at a live cellphone video and sees digital elements interacting with the real world.
BRP data show that half of customers are more likely to shop with a retailer that uses virtual or augmented reality and that 32 percent of retailers plan to incorporate that technology in the next three years.
“As more and more retailers adopt VR or AR technology over the next few years, this will increase customers’ expectations for the same from other retailers that they shop,” Bauman said.
More mobile to save time
Retailers have also invested in their cellphone apps for customers to provide coupons, alerts to new promotions and a map to locate products in the store.
Apps for retailers like Macy’s, Lowe’s and Ikea let customers use the camera on their phones to see what furniture would look like inside their home, Kennedy said.
The Macy’s app is available for iPhone 7 and newer and will come to Android next year, according to a company statement.
Sephora’s app can scan customers’ faces and show different looks for people’s eyes and lips.
Retailers like Walmart, Target and Macy’s have also invested in physical space where customers can pick up items they ordered online.
It helps customers get the product quicker than if shipper to their house, said Jonathan Dembinski, manager of the Macy’s Summerlin store. But it also gives them a reason to come to the store.
Overall, shoppers this holiday season may notice workers using more mobile devices to help find items in the store or find the closest location to ship an item into the store for pickup.
Part of the Walmart virtual reality training includes how to use their mobile register to process sales on the floor, freeing up space at the cash registers.