Well-trained associates are a vital piece of achieving success in retail, and yet associate training and retention pose significant challenges. Why? Because retailers are under intense pressure to keep costs low and sales high. And, unfortunately, staffing is still viewed as an expense that needs to be controlled and even cut in order to generate bottom line results.
The financial impact of limiting hours is immediate and easy to measure. And as a result, retailers decrease associate hours, limit training efforts, deemphasize continuous learning and even utilize technology to replace workers.
Overlooked is the reality that employees are a physical retailer’s greatest asset and a justifiable investment – as made evident by a study of 1,000 consumers conducted by TimeTrade, in which 90 percent of consumers responded that they would be likely buy in-store if helped by a knowledgeable associate.
Training Brings Big Rewards
As with any job, there is a direct correlation between workers’ performance and their training. This is especially true in a retail environment. For example, a study of labor practices published in the Harvard Business Review found that stores in which employees had less training, greater workloads, and higher turnover performed worse.
On the other hand, a 2014 study from Experticity, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, “Does Online Training Work in Retail? Improving Store Execution through Online Learning,” found that sales associates who received even a minimal amount of training had 46 percent more sales per hour than those who did not train. The study, which was conducted with more than 65,500 salespeople across 330 stores, illustrates the incredible impact training has on store performance.
Training Isn’t Something You Did. It’s Something You Do.
Technology is useful on the front end of the hiring process and allows store managers to onboard associates in a more streamlined manner. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are traditionally used to inform new hires of the overarching organizational culture, various processes and policies. And while this back room approach to training is vital, it’s merely one facet of developing an associate’s abilities. A blended approach to training – mixing an LMS system with on-the-floor exercises – is an ideal way to introduce new associates to the retail environment (e.g., store layout, product interactions, customer information) and set them up for success.
Once employees move beyond the onboarding stage and are fully engaged, training should not stop. Store managers should leverage real-time metrics that are relevant to each associate’s position (e.g., items per transaction, items stocked, credit cards sold, etc.) to continuously evaluate performance. Traffic data is particularly relevant, as it goes beyond point of sale data to accurately define the in-store opportunity and better speak to a sales associate’s capability.
From there, managers can determine where re-training might be necessary. This can mean returning to the LMS for a refresher on different scenarios or even role playing customer interactions with fellow employees.
Further, a commitment to training plays a significant role in the store of the future. Specifically, a retailer cannot ask its customers to engage in a technology-laced journey without first equipping associates with the necessary guidance. In doing so, associates need to receive hands-on training. For example, a manager needs to thoroughly train an associate on how to explore product offerings alongside a customer via an iPad. This not only keeps associates on the floor and increases the chance of sales, it helps to empower associates and reinforces their commitment to your brand.
Competency is Key
Pete Psichogios, president of CSI International Performance Group, identified seven principles that impact employee recognition and customer retention and one is competency.
“Retailers must enable front-line workers with learning and skills that will give them the judgment for making on-the-spot decisions to improve the customer experience. Competency and ability are role specific, and always changing, so learning and development opportunities must be ongoing and recognized as employees demonstrate success,” Psichogios says.
Think about it: the average U.S. employee receives a mere 31 hours of training per year, while a Container Store employee receives more than 263 hours of training in his or her first year alone. What are the implications of such a significant investment in training? A mere 10 percent turnover rate in an industry that averages nearly 100 percent.
Ultimately, by remaining committed to training talent, retailers can create a loyal workforce that better serves customers and boosts their bottom line.
A version of this article was originally published in Innovative Retail Technologies.