Why, When & How to Do It – Business

Your shop might already sell great products, have a steady stream of new and repeat customers and offer excellent return policies and guarantees. But all that won’t be enough if you don’t have well-trained retail employees that consistently deliver a great customer experience and propel your business forward.

Your staff members are the first friendly faces your customers see when they enter your store and the people they have the most contact with. So, it only makes sense that effective retail employee training should be one of your top priorities.

If you don’t know where to begin with your retail employee training, look no further. This article covers:

  • Why retail employee training is so important
  • When to train your retail employees
  • Four different types of retail employee training programs you can try out
  • What to include in your retail employee training manual
  • How you can build a retail employee training program in six steps

Let’s get started.

Why it’s important to invest in retail employee training

If you want to improve retail management, you have to invest in training your employees. But training has so many benefits for both you and your employees that you’ll quickly begin to reap the rewards.

Increase employee productivity

When you train your employees, they’re more likely to perform their tasks well. That’s because employees who know what they’re doing are more efficient.

Training also indirectly affects productivity. When your employees are efficient, they have more time to do their tasks thoroughly and spot problems that need attention. That means that training can bring you increasing returns on your investment.

Boost employee morale

According to Glint’s recent report on employee well-being, career development is one of the key drivers of employee happiness. And when you offer your staff members training that’s both relevant and useful, you’re saying you value them as team members and want to invest in their professional futures. That can increase employees’ feelings of self-worth.

Training also sets employees up for success and satisfaction as most people are happier when they feel capable in their workplaces.

Attract employees and increase retention

The LinkedIn 2022 Workplace Learning Report revealed that businesses are twice as likely to hold onto their employees when they offer effective training. That’s because people want employers who support them in their current roles and offer them the opportunity to learn new skills so they can progress in their careers.

Beyond retaining employees, training can help you attract new hires for the same reasons. Consider mentioning your training programs in your job ads and on your LinkedIn profile, and maybe even include some current employee testimonials on your careers page.

Promote autonomy and avoid micromanagement

Having under-trained employees on your team is a lose-lose situation. Either you have to watch those staff members closely — which is stressful for them and a poor use of your time — or you have to leave them to learn on the job and hope they don’t make too many harmful mistakes.

All in all, training allows employees to manage themselves better, which is beneficial for the whole business. It means you don’t have to monitor your team as much and feel confident everything will continue to run smoothly.

Increase revenue

All the benefits we’ve mentioned above can also make your business more profitable. For example:

  • Productive, happy employees deliver better customer service. This can increase sales, earn you more returning customers, and build a great reputation for your business.
  • Higher retention rates reduce your hiring and onboarding costs.
  • Self-sufficient staff members allow you to focus on running your business instead of constantly monitoring their work.

Truly satisfied employees can also become brand ambassadors for your business if they talk about working for you positively to others — especially on social media platforms like LinkedIn, where their posts and comments are visible to other professionals.

When to train your employees

Training shouldn’t just be part of your onboarding process it should be a continuous activity that you can adapt to suit your changing business and employee needs. Although you can offer extra training whenever you see fit, here are some situations when businesses often need to train their employees:

  • Onboarding new employees. When you hire new team members, even if they’re experienced salespeople, they’ll need to receive training about your specific business expectations and processes.
  • Onboarding new roles. Likewise, when you promote an existing employee, you’ll need to make sure they’re well-equipped to carry out their new duties.
  • Product or service updates. When you introduce new products or services, employees need to learn about them in detail so they can sell them effectively.
  • Software updates. If you change or update software like your point of sale (POS) or scheduling tool, you’ll need to tell staff members exactly what to expect. Otherwise, they may end up using the software incorrectly.
  • Regular employee performance development. Performance reviews reveal staff strengths and weaknesses, as well as business skill gaps. And this kind of information can help you organize relevant, effective training sessions.
  • Seasonal training. When you hire seasonal employees, they still need onboarding. However, it may look different than usual as you have to tailor it to your short-term needs, which might vary depending on the time of year.

4 types of retail employee training programs

Here are some of the most common types of retail employee training. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list, as different retail industries have different training needs. For example, shoe shops need to teach their employees how to fit shoes, and garden shops require staff to take care of the plants in the store along with selling them to customers.

1. Retail sales training

Retail sales training is the process of teaching your employees how to:

  • Approach customers on the sales floor
  • Build a rapport with customers
  • Showcase the business’s products and services effectively
  • Talk about a product or service’s features and benefits in detail
  • Compare and contrast other similar products on the market
  • Overcome objections to or questions about pricing
  • Cross-sell other complementary products and services

Effective sales training includes mapping the customer journey from the moment they walk in your shop’s front door to when an employee closes a sale. Teaching popular sales techniques is also important, like telling a story and creating a sense of scarcity or urgency.

Be mindful that retail sales training is different from other sales training because employees have a much shorter time frame to make sales when compared with other industries. So, make sure your techniques and training materials are specific to retail sales.

2. Customer service training

Customer service training teaches team members how to improve the customer experience in your shop. And while customer service training may have some overlap with sales training, it also encompasses developing the soft skills necessary to deal with customers effectively like:

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving

Customer service training also shows employees how to handle more complex and difficult customer interactions like complaints, returns, and inquiries. This kind of training is vital for situations when customers become irritated, angry, or behave inappropriately. For example, it’s handy for your employees to know how to delicately handle customers who skip the queue or want to return a product after the return period has passed.

3. Product training

Product training should go a lot deeper than simply telling staff about new products. Ideally, it should also involve teaching team members how to showcase those products effectively. For example, most successful products reflect a specific brand that customers buy into. So, you wouldn’t want your sales team to showcase a mountain boot with a tough, practical image as a fashionable item.

You should also teach your sales team to tap into customer needs throughout the sales process. Show them how to quickly uncover customer pain points and the products that can solve them. For example, you can role-play offering a customer more affordable options when they’re unhappy about the price of a certain high-end product.

3. Management training

If you have different levels of seniority in your shop, you’ll also need management training in your roster. Management training focuses on both the soft skills necessary to lead a team and the hard skills required to run a business. You’ll also have to teach senior staff members how you’d like them to report back to you when they manage shifts where you aren’t present.

What to include in your employee training manual

You may wish to create a training manual for your employees. Training manuals are documents that contain all the essential training information employees should have on hand. They can come in paper formats, digital formats, or both, but they should be stored somewhere all employees can easily access and refer back to.

Here are some examples of what they can include:

  • Training timeline. An overview of what your business’s baseline training covers, when it happens, and how long it takes.
  • Mission and vision. The reasons why you started your business in the first place and what you hope to achieve in the future.
  • Company policies. A list of your core rules and guidelines like dress code, staff discounts, and acceptable use of mobile devices.
  • Information about products and services. An in-depth guide that covers all the most important products and services you offer.
  • Roles and responsibilities. A description of the tasks and responsibilities different people are responsible for during their working hours.
  • List of technologies and training resources. Extra resources that employees can use if they want to find out more about your processes, business, or industry.
  • Safety and compliance information. All the information staff members need to protect their health, safety, and emotional well-being at work.

Build a training program for retail employees in 6 steps

Now that we’ve covered all the resources you need to train your retail employees, here are the steps you can take to create our own effective training program. This is a general guide for retail stores, so make sure you tailor each step to your specific business model.

1. Hire retail employees with the right attitude

It’s easier to train employees who are already a good fit for your business and have the right attitude for customer service. So, look for people who:

  • Are people oriented
  • Share your company values
  • Have a positive outlook
  • Want to acquire new knowledge and skills

Also, keep in mind that it’s often less work to train an unskilled employee than an experienced worker who’s picked up bad habits.

To test out candidates’ people skills, try conducting group interviews. You’ll be able to see how they talk to each other first-hand and assess their interpersonal abilities in a way that’s difficult in one-on-one interviews.

2. Get to know your new hires

Standard training programs can act as helpful reference points and ensure you cover all the essential information. But each employee is different, so be sure to tailor your training to their specific needs.

The more that you learn about your new hires, the easier it’ll be to adapt your training programs to what they need to know. Here are some ideas on how to get to know your team better:

  • Devote time up-front to get to know your employees. Learn about their hobbies, what they like to do outside of work, and what achievements they’re most proud of. Ask them how they like to receive feedback. And be sure to share information about yourself, too, so you keep a casual tone and avoid making the conversation feel like an interrogation.
  • Organize informal meet-ups. Take your new hires out to lunch or arrange an informal get-together after hours, like bowling, karaoke, or some casual drinks. You’ll not only find out who your new hires are as people, but you’ll also show them how you like to lead your team in a casual, low-pressure environment.
  • Personality quizzes. Quizzes like 16 personalities are fun, but they also give you insight into what kind of people your employees are.
  • Play icebreaker games. You can use fifteen minutes of your staff meetings to play guessing games so everyone can learn more about each other. One popular game is two truths and a lie, where players give three facts about themselves and everyone else has to decide which one is false.

3. Choose your training methods

Once you’ve learned more about your new hires, you’ll better understand their learning styles. For example, some employees might be visual learners, while others may have dyspraxia and require more time to process certain information.

People generally retain information better if you use a variety of teaching methods that can resonate with different learning styles. So, try to mix up your training activities and materials as much as you can.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Job shadowing. Also known as on-the-job training. New hires follow experienced employees around to learn by observation.
  • Online learning. Sometimes referred to as eLearning, new hires can use a website or mobile app to learn about your business or industry at their own pace. You can find many courses like food safety and sensitivity training available online on sites like Udemy and EDX.
  • Video. You can create your own videos or buy pre-recorded lessons on specific techniques for new hires to watch. For example, Homebase has a Youtube channel full of tutorials on how to use their software.
  • Classroom-style: If you have several new hires starting at the same time — like seasonal workers — you can onboard them together. But this isn’t as affordable for individual hires because the costs will quickly rack up when you schedule sessions for employees one by one.
  • Checklists and handbooks. Written resources let new workers study on their own and give them a useful guide to refer back to.
  • Team building activities. These are low-stakes tasks that let your team practice their communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, like scavenger hunts, trivia, or escape rooms.
  • Orientation. This is usually a guided tour of the business premises with an introduction to each of the employee’s new coworkers.
  • Simulations. These are tasks that test your new employees’ abilities to carry out their job duties. For example, you might ask an employee to ring up some items on the till without actually processing a sale.
  • Quizzes and games. You can test new hires’ knowledge with a quiz to encourage some healthy competition.
  • Role-playing. This is a training method where employees act out their job duties, often with another employee playing the role of the customer. Role play can help employees build confidence in performing certain tasks before they have to do them with real customers.

4. Keep training sessions short

Studies suggest that 15 to 30 minutes is the most effective length for learning sessions. If they last for too much longer, new hires might get distracted, tired, and even forget most of what they’ve taken in.

So, if you have a particularly long or complex training workshop that you need to share with new employees, break it down into short, self-contained modules. That way, you’ll give everyone a chance to understand and process the new information before they move on.

5. Evaluate your training program

To be sure your employees are getting the most out of their training, check if your program is working effectively by evaluating your approach on a regular basis. A proven method of assessing job training is the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model, which consists of four levels:

  1. Reaction. Use surveys and one-on-one discussions to collect feedback from your employees.
  2. Learning. Measure what the employees learned through testing before and after your training programs. You can test their product knowledge or observe whether they’re performing their tasks more efficiently than before.
  3. Behavior. Observe your employees’ performance and attitude in the workplace after training. And if you want to know how they act when you’re not there, ask their team members for private feedback, too.
  4. Results. Check whether training has affected your overall business performance with metrics like profits, turnover rates, sales, and customer reviews.

Focus on the training methods that help produce the results you need for your business. And don’t be afraid to reassess and update anything that’s not working for you or your employees.

6. Make employee training continuous

Although most people expect to go through an onboarding process when they get a new job, training should be ongoing. Your employees are only human and will forget what they’ve learned about products, policies, and other internal ways of doing business. They’ll need an occasional reminder or refresher course.

Plus, your business, your employees, and your industry will keep changing over time. For example, nobody could’ve predicted the pandemic, but its impact on retail was unprecedented. Now, social distancing and disinfection points are a huge part of the in-store experience. You’ve got to make training continuous to stay ahead of and prepared for changes like these.

Homebase plays a key role in retail employee training

If you need help finding and onboarding new hires, Homebase is the perfect solution. Our hiring and onboarding tools let you post job ads across listing sites to find the perfect match for your business. And once you’ve got the right candidate lined up, our app can also send them their onboarding documents and collect their signature electronically.

But we can help you long after your employees sign their contracts, too. Homebase lets you improve employee happiness by monitoring performance, recognizing individual contributions, and collecting feedback to make sure everyone is satisfied in their roles. Best of all, our HR tool can also help you with these processes and show you through our extensive library of training resources.

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