Why Learning Matters: Retail

Arguably no other part of your retail business can have as much of an impact on your customer experience as your sales or floor associates. There’s ample research that shows how the customer experience your associates provide can be the difference between leading your market or getting stuck in the middle of the pack.

  • 52% of consumers say they have made an additional purchase from a company after a positive customer service experience, according to Dimensional Research.
  • A 5% increase in customer retention can produce 25% more profit, according to Bain & Company.
  • 69% of consumers attribute their good customer service experience to quick resolution of their problem, according to one survey by Dimensional Research.
  • 80% of customers have switched brands because of poor customer experience, while 43% of respondents indicated they were at least somewhat likely to switch brands after only a single negative experience, according to a survey by Qualtrics and ServiceNow.

Leaving your customer experience to chance is not an option. But how can you ensure that your associates are well-prepared to meet the need of your customers?

The answer is continuous learning and development.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the key benefits of learning and development for retailers and how you can deploy a learning program that gets results.

Benefits of a learning program in retail

Improved retention

Chief Learning Officer interviewed learning officers at two major retailers (Home Depot and Mattress Giant) where leaders made training their retail associates a priority. According to the news source, investing in employees led to higher retention — which is significant given the level of turnover for most retail sectors. In addition to noting improved retention, they found that training made employees feel more competent and invested in providing great service.

Less reliance on managers

Employees who are well-trained in best practices are more likely to be able to handle out-of-the-ordinary situations themselves and work with customers to find resolutions to issues.

Being called upon less frequently will free up your managers to focus on bigger-picture tasks.

Reduced compliance risks

Complying with safety regulations is critical for retailers — whether they’re from federal agencies like the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), state-level agencies, or even your company itself. Reports of unsafe practices can lead to fines, lawsuits, and negative press that could damage your brand reputation.

Employees who are routinely trained on best safety practices are far less likely to make avoidable mistakes or endanger customers and other employees.

Improved customer experience

Customers want employees who can offer helpful advice and solve problems in a timely manner. Only employees who are well-trained in product knowledge and customer service can provide a truly differentiated experience in your retail locations.

What should a learning program for retail employees cover?

Every learning program should cover specific and relevant information that will suit your business’ individual needs. That said, there are some common areas in which every retailer will need to provide continuous training, such as:

  • Product knowledge. Your associates’ product knowledge is a key part of making customers feel positively about your brand, whether they’re resolving issues with your products and services or educating customers on your offerings.
  • Sales skills. Product knowledge alone isn’t enough to help your associates sell your products — they also need to learn how to listen to customers. Only by listening can employees understand customers’ needs, help them compare options, overcome their objections, and ultimately lead them to make a purchase.
  • Technical skills. Improving technical skills can include ensuring your employees know how to use your point of sale (POS) system efficiently, how to use in-store tablets, how to set up displays correctly, and any other skills required to perform their jobs.
  • Interpersonal skills. Ensuring your associates know how to conduct themselves professionally around customers and co-workers will ensure a good experience for everyone as well as protect your business from conflict and liability.
  • Safety skills. A learning program that prioritizes safety training around forklift operation, hygiene and sanitation, and store conditions (such as slippery floors) will protect you from compliance risks associated with unsafe practices that could put employee and customer well-being in jeopardy.

Implementing an effective learning program for retail

You know that learning is critical, so the next step is understanding how to implement a learning program that gets results. Here are some tips to help you do so.

Start with onboarding

Whether you’re bringing on seasonal employees or hiring for permanent positions, you can’t afford to send associates onto your floors with inadequate training.

Be sure to build a strong foundation during onboarding that covers the basic skills your associates will need. Although they can always improve over time, a strong grounding in core skills and company policies is essential for long-term success.

Offer point-of-need training

Working in retail can be hectic — particularly during peak season. In lieu of requiring all employees to take time away from the sales floor to sit through trainings, your learning program should include point-of-need training that is easily accessible and actionable so associates can learn in the flow of work.

Practice scenarios

Some of the most impactful training you can do is having associates role-play specific scenarios they’re likely to encounter in the course of their work as part of more structured, lesson-based learning.

Scenario training could include how to answer specific product questions, how to deal with a difficult customer, or how to handle peak traffic.

Keep compliance in mind

Safety violations aren’t just a compliance nightmare on the corporate side — they can lead to injuries that compromise workers’ ability to do their jobs.

Beyond exacerbating labor shortages, noncompliance can also mean lawsuits, fines, investigations, and negative press. With this in mind, safety training according to local and federal regulations should be emphasized and repeatedly refreshed.

Offer blended learning experiences

Although learning virtually via a learning management system (LMS) can be a great way to provide both just-in-time training and more structured training on routine tasks and processes, many people enjoy learning directly from their colleagues and managers.

Make shadowing more experienced employees part of your training programs to help reinforce your formal learning programs for new recruits. This in-person approach allows trainees to see the concepts they’re learning being applied in real contexts by seasoned associates.

Collect feedback and improve your program

Because implementing a learning program isn’t a one-and-done activity, you should regularly collect feedback on your learning modules’ effectiveness and relevance.

Be sure to consistently survey your associates on how much they feel they learned, how applicable the training was to their job, and how they felt about the learning methods you deployed. You can use this information to tailor both the content and its delivery for future trainees.

The bottom line

Retail sales associates who are committed to consistent learning and development can become a powerful competitive advantage for your business. As customers come to rely on your team’s great service and expertise, they’ll return time and time again — and you’ll reduce turnover by keeping your staff engaged. Use these tips to make ongoing employee learning a key part of your success strategy.