When it comes to retail sales training, technology has redefined the way that companies do business over the last decade or so.
From mobile checkout devices to social media marketing to more effective anti-theft tags, today’s retail success toolkit is more tech-based – and more expansive – than ever.
The reach of technology’s efficiency-boosting potential extends beyond front of house operations, though, and if they haven’t done so already, retailers would be well-advised to consider how technology can help update their employee training and development processes.
Indeed, data suggest that customer service failures are one of the primary drags on corporate retail performance. Of course, customer service depends not only on the quality of employees you hire, but on the quality of training you provide during onboarding and beyond. Inspiring, informative training is critical to managing employee satisfaction, and in a retail landscape defined by cutthroat competition and rapid workforce turnover, retailers must do everything they can to retain their best talent.
So, what’s the most effective way for modern retailers to secure – or produce – the kind of top sales talent needed to satisfy sky-high consumer expectations? The answer rests with technology, specifically, innovative workplace learning software. With a powerful learning management system (LMS), retailers can elevate employee onboarding and ongoing training into an enjoyable, productive endeavor that not only builds skills but culture and buy-in as well. If properly deployed, an LMS has the ability to transform customer service from a significant liability to an under-the-radar business driver.
The State of Retail Sales Training
Retail poses unique challenges when it comes to training and professional development. Logistically, the high cost of management retreats and retail sales employee training events is enough to frustrate many business owners into opting out of quality retail sales training programs entirely. The sales floor inefficiencies and high employee turnover rates that stem from doing so exhibit why neglecting this aspect of workforce management is, unequivocally, a mistake. Fortunately, most retailers understand the value of basic employee training. Some 87.2% of part-time retail employees receive initial workplace training, a figure only slightly below the 89.7% of full-time employees who receive training. Unfortunately, the prevalence of employee training in the retail sector is more a response to the harsh realities of the industry than a proactive business decision. Consider just a couple of the challenges with which retailers must contend:
- Lack of suitable candidates: When asked, “What percentage of applicants are suitable candidates for positions your company offers,” a mere 8.6% of retailers responded with “75-99%.” Conversely, over 60% of respondents claimed that between 0% and 24% of candidates were qualified for the positions for which they applied. Shockingly, more than one in ten (11.4%) retailers reported that only 0-9% of their applicants were properly qualified. These fairly dismal numbers stem in large part from significant skills gaps. 21% of all respondents claimed that a “lack of required skills among the candidate pool” represented the greatest barrier to finding suitable employees, second only to the “ability to offer competitive compensation” (24%).
- Difficulty retaining employees: The struggle to build a competent sales team doesn’t stop once retailers have made their hires. It’s not unusual for even the most promising retail sales associates to end up underperforming, and most companies can’t afford to rest on their laurels and ignore repeated or prolonged failures. A plurality of 31% of retailers claim that poor attitude is the greatest challenge to employee retention, but this plurality is actually surpassed by the collective of those retailers who report lack of training (12%), inadequate interpersonal skills (12%), and inadequate communication skills (8%) as the greatest challenge to retention. All three of these shortcomings can be rectified to some degree or another with improved onboarding and employee development programs.
Simply put, retailers hoping to assemble a top-notch sales team must accept that, in most cases, they’re going to have to build it from the ground up. There just aren’t that many well-qualified retail workers out there, and the top talent tends to get snatched up incredibly quickly by companies willing and/or able to pay premium wages. This reality is made evident by the fact that only 1% of retailers would automatically disqualify an applicant for a “lack of previous training,” a figure that pales in comparison to the number of companies that would disqualify an applicant for a poor interview (30%), a bad attitude (29%), or a subpar résumé (11%).
In short, retailers often have no choice but to develop the borderline-(un)qualified applicants they receive. Encouragingly, a fair number of retailers have already begun to recognize the potential of tech-facilitated workplace learning. Though a quarter of retail companies incorporate little or no e-learning into their training processes, 34% report a training regimen that is between 51% and 75% e-learning and 31% report a regimen that is between 76% and 100% e-learning. Despite still being in the minority, a solid 42% of retailers report using an LMS to host and deliver their training materials.
How an LMS Helps Improve Retail Sales Training
As hinted at above, in today’s hyper-competitive markets, retailers must do everything they can to ensure that their customers have a positive in-store experience. That being said, anyone who has worked in retail can tell you that the job entails much more than living by the mantra, “the customer is always right.” Even entry-level retail workers contribute to loss-prevention, inventory management, and basic administrative processes.
As such, inadequate retail sales training can undermine a business in ways that go far beyond the creation of frustrated customers. It is therefore critically important that retailers invest in thorough training processes that cover not only customer service, but the full slate of responsibilities with which employees will be tasked. This won’t look the same for every retailer, but a powerful, flexible LMS goes a long way toward motivating a sales team and developing a competent, business-driving workforce, regardless of whether every member was a top-of-the-line candidate when hired.