5 Common Problems with Retail Sales Training and How to Fix Them

06 October 2020

Training & learning

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about work-related training?

If we're being honest with ourselves, it’s one of the following: 

  • Overwhelming
  • Boring
  • Information overload
  • Can't remember anyone's name
  • I ate all the free donuts 

Training that doesn't help people learn and retain information is costly and detrimental to employee performance.

But the effects of insufficient training become exponentially more problematic for retail sales associates, because they're in direct contact with customers every day.

And now that life has been made more challenging for store teams due to COVID-19, it’s even more important to get training and development exactly right.

Short on time? Watch the video blog summary! 

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What happens when a retailer gets their training wrong?

Opportunities are missed, customer experience gets worse and sales are lost.

It's clear that most retail sales training doesn't provide store associates and customers with what they need.

One study revealed that 83% of customers think they're more knowledgeable than sales associates. Not exactly a glowing review.

And even worse, another study found that 28% of store associates couldn't find the information they need quickly enough to help shoppers. In 2020, people want to spend as little time in-store as possible, and they will leave if they can’t shop quickly.

But what happens when a retailer gets their training right?

The retailers with the best store associate training programs are the ones with the most satisfied customers and the most sales growth. 

For example, Training Magazine's ranking of the top 125 organizations with the very best training programs in the US ranked discount retailer Dollar General at #1.

Dollar General started ramping up its training program in 2018, which focused heavily on knowing the customer and capitalizing on the knowledge of experienced store managers. Customer satisfaction went up by 790 points and sales increased by 6.8%.

Coincidence? Probably not.

Here are 5 common problems with most retail sales training programs, and how retailers can fix them.

1) Retail sales training is too long, but not long enough.

Yes, you read that right.

Most retail sales training is too long because employees spend hours, or even days, completing it.

Most retail training isn't long enough because it's only focused on the employee's first few days or weeks. After that, they're on their own.

The problem here is that providing a long-winded, one-off block of training doesn't help employees retain the information and skills they'll need. In fact, the Forgetting Curve model - originally created by German psychologist Hermann Ebinghaus in 1885 - estimates that even if 100% of information is retained at the time of training, it drops to 50% by the next day.

It’s also important to remember that in 2020, important information changes frequently and unpredictably according to the latest COVID-19 guidelines. That means frequent training is now a necessity.

How to fix it

Create quick, bite-sized training sessions - also known as microlearning. Deliver these sessions continuously with the goal of not just training, but also refreshing knowledge.

RELATED: A Guide to Microlearning: What It Is and Why Your Employees Need It

2) Retail sales training isn't relevant to the employee's role.

Yes, employee training and development needs to be standardized across the entire organization. But the problem with most retail training is that employees get too much information (so they don't remember the important things) or not enough (so they never learn the important things).

Time is of the essence for store teams in 2020, so training should take the employee's role into account and be tailored specifically to them. A part-time employee who never works from open till close doesn't need to know the same store procedures as a full-time employee, for example. And some stores have larger product ranges than others - employees at these stores need more product knowledge training.

How to fix it

Identify the skills and product knowledge every employee needs and standardize training accordingly. Gain an understanding of the differences between stores and sales associate roles to create additional learning tracks that deliver what's most useful.

3) Retail sales training is not convenient for a deskless workforce.

If most corporate workers think the typical conference room inductions and e-learning sessions are a little dull, imagine how a deskless employee feels. Dull training doesn't help anyone retain information better - especially employees who are never sat at a desk all day. 

Retail employees tend to be younger, working part-time or seasonally and on the run between work and school or job #1 and job #2. 

They also now have extra responsibilities and even less time in which to manage them, as they juggle their regular duties with COVID-19 requirements on a reduced staff rota.

With all of this to contend with, training that shifts the burden of learning onto the employee's own time is not the most effective method, and might mean that it doesn’t even get done.

RELATED: Why Every Deskless Worker Needs Mobile Tech

How to fix it

Make your bite-sized chunks of learning goodness accessible to employees wherever they are (a.k.a on their phones). Gamify your training, but understand what it is about games that motivate us to succeed beyond the fun - autonomy, mastery and a feeling of belonging.

4) Retail sales training is isolating.

Any customer service role is a social one. Working in a retail store is all about teamwork. But most retail sales training is passive and one-sided - employees listen to their manager, a trainer from head office, or someone blathering on for 2 hours on an e-learning video that was recorded in 2007.

Employee training and development should be social and collaborative for the same reasons that people love using social media. It's addictive to see what your peers are up to. People love to share what they've done. And maybe they also like a little bit of friendly competition. 

In fact, 41% of millennials and Gen Z would like to see employers incorporate social media into their training.

The power of social media to keep people connected has become so important in 2020, it just makes sense to extend that to employee training and development.

Creating a positive and engaging learning environment will keep your employees motivated, even if they can’t all be together at once.

How to fix it

Make your training about showing and doing as well as listening.

Create visibility in your training programs so employees can see how they rank against their peers (leaderboards are great for this!).

Take note of who your employees are learning from, too. Trainers don't necessarily have to come from head office and have the word "trainer" in their title. What about an experienced store manager, or someone who's been promoted to a head office role from within?

RELATED: How Gamification of Training Boosts Employee Retention

5) Retail sales training is stagnant.

Most retail sales training doesn't evolve with store associates, nor does it give them a sense of agency in choosing what they want to learn.

Employers who excel at retaining employees are the ones who provide clear paths for evolving and growing within the company. Employee training and development is a huge part of this. And whatever preconceived and incorrect notions people have about store associates, the truth is they want to learn.

How to fix it

Create learning tracks for advancement, cross-training and much more. Make employees aware that this training exists as part of their career progression, and actively encourage them to invest in their learning and development. 

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Want more training tips for your frontline teams? Download this free Ebook - A Guide to Effectively Training Frontline Employees

Ebook Download - A Guide to Effectively Training Frontline Employees

This blog post was first published in August 2019, and has since been updated for relevance and clarity.

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