Anyone who's ever manned the shoe department at Macy's; rung up merchandise at Home Depot; or asked, "Do you want fries with that?" at McDonald's knows retail is a vastly different animal than, say, the insurance business or the manufacturing industry.
And while one respondent to Training's recent online survey of 76 retailers pointed out that "sales is sales, and there should be no difference in training," there are several factors that make retail training particularly challenging. These include a lack of time for training, widely dispersed geographic locations, decentralized organizations, and significant turnover.
"Retail is a fast-paced business with a need for attention to detail, so training must be tailored to the limited time available," one respondent noted. "As a result, more and more training is done on the floor rather than in classroom settings."
A multiunit retailer with stores across the country admitted, "We only come together once a year, and that time is spent on training and recognition, but it is viewed more as event-based vs. developmental. We have used multimedia training and leader-led training and have been moderately successful." Meanwhile, another retailer with employees in satellite locations depends on store managers to deliver the training it develops.
Due to increased turnover, it is imperative that the training content is not only easily processed but also quick and able to be mass-produced upon demand, one retailer pointed out. Another added that training challenges arise because "English is the second language for a majority of the frontline employees."
From the Top
When asked about corporate buy-in, respondents' answers ranged from "very strong" and "improving at a rapid pace" to "shaky...wants it until they see the price" and "very poor." As in many industries, "buy-in is good if ROI can be seen." In some cases, "executives appreciate the value of training," one respondent mentioned, "but it's a bit more difficult to get the stores to allocate time to training."
On the positive side, one retailer said, "Training is viewed as a top company priority and is utilized to implement new systems, processes, and business initiatives."
At the other end of the spectrum, one respondent noted that higher-ups are "skeptical, viewing training as a band-aid event rather than ongoing development."
Sidebar: I Wish...
Here, a look at the retail industry's training wish list if they had unlimited funding for training:
- More trainers, including field trainers and a training manager
- On-site trainers in each department who would do nothing but conduct constant training with follow-up to consistently reinforce
- To use 90 percent professional trainers to deliver content instead of a mix of industry volunteers and professional trainers
- More training sites countrywide
- Week-long staff training getaway
- Payroll for new hire training
- HR and employee testing and prequalification and training for target areas
- A talent management system
- A comprehensive LMS
- Training materials, rooms (including dedicated space in retail locations off the sales floor), and PCs
- More e-learning/mobile learning, including professionally designed e-training orientation specific to our company; e-learning availability at branch locations; and upgraded hardware in store locations to support more robust online learning
- Even more use of various technologies in training (MP3, Webinar, 3-D simulations, etc.); updated software tutorials customized for our market; buy-in for blogs and wikis; video conference abilities with an in-house video production training room large enough for 200 people; and the financial ability to offer training in multiple formats and media
- More time for line-level employees to train and more funding for labor as exempt employees must be paid for the time they spend learning
- Leadership training
- Communications, people, and relationship-building skills
- Sales 101/how to close sales
- Complete training on job flow, database, and detail management
- Continuing education for all associates
- To develop a coherent and well-defined curriculum for our industry