As retailers gear up for the busiest shopping season of the year, companies are turning to new technology features like virtual reality to train employees and draw in shoppers.
Retailers like Walmart and Target are adding new technology to compete with online retailers like Amazon that offer convenience and quickness to customers. The fight to lure customers into stores is more important than ever for stores, as economists predict this will be the first holiday season that online shopping outpaces brick-and-mortar retail sales.
Walmart is turning to virtual reality to prep new employees before the season. In 2016, Walmart opened six training academies in Ohio to teach associates advanced retail skills, leadership and specifics on how to run individual store departments.
Last year, Walmart launched a pilot program to implement virtual reality in 31 of its Training Academies and has since rolled it out to all academies. Virtual reality allows Walmart to train associates in scenarios that are difficult or impossible to recreate in a store. Some of the these scenarios include the holiday rush on Black Friday, spills and disruptive incidents, said Brad Terry, Walmart’s e-commerce manager for the region.
The retailer has added its new Pickup Towers in stores across the U.S., including the Middletown store. The tower allows customers to order items online and pick up them up in stores for no shipping costs — and they don’t have to wait in any check-out lines. Walmart is also using robots to help stock shelves at 50 stores across the country.
The robots, which stand about two-feet-tall and are outfitted with cameras, help them scan aisles and identify missing or mislabeled inventory across the store. The robots also check for mispriced items, and give the information to employees who fix the issues.
Walmart officials say the robots can scan and search for items more efficiently than humans can. “If you are running up and down the aisle and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn’t do that job very well, and they don’t like it,” chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, Jeremy King told Reuters.
“From our perspective, when you’re doing things like this you’re trying to improve your service to your customers and trying to make things simpler and easier for your associates at the same time,” John Crecelius, Walmart’s vice president of central operations, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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Humans don’t have to be worried about their jobs anytime soon, Walmart officials said. The robots do not have arms, so they can’t pick any products up in the aisles, said Martin Hitch, chief business officer at Bossa Nova Robotics.
Walmart isn’t the only retailer transforming stores with technology. Meijer launched home delivery services in Dayton and Cincinnati this year, and Toys R Us vowed to turn stores into “digital playgrounds” with its new augmented reality app. Target Corp. announced back in March that it would redesign its stores, investing billions of dollars in the next three years.
The renovations include: dedicated parking where workers will bring out online orders; a second entrance will allow “time-starved” customers to easily navigate the grocery area, a wine and beer shop, self-checkout lanes and an order pick-up station; and circular center aisles that will have displays that engage customers with “compelling products in unexpected places.”
Target workers will have new technology that will allow them to search inventory and take payment from a mobile point-of-sale system from the sales floor. The redesign comes as part of the company’s strategy to “create a smart network, with stores, digital channels and supply chain,” according to a company statement.
As retailers thrust brick-and-mortar stores into the future, Amazon is offering stiff competition. The online retailer has announced fulfillment centers across Ohio, including one in Monroe that will bring 1,000 jobs to the region. The fulfillment centers mean local customers can expect their packages even sooner than before.
The online giant is taking convenience to the next level with its new service Amazon Key, which launches in 37 cities this week. The new service allows customers to have their packages securely delivered inside their home without having to be there. Using the Amazon Key app, customers can track their delivery with real-time notifications, watch the delivery happening live or review a video of the delivery after it is complete.
“Amazon Key gives customers peace of mind knowing their orders have been safely delivered to their homes and are waiting for them when they walk through their doors,” said Peter Larsen, Amazon’s vice president of delivery technology. “Now, Prime members can select in-home delivery and conveniently see their packages being delivered right from their mobile phones.”
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