Onboarding a retail employee

Improving Onboarding for Retail Teams: Top Tips

27 May 2021

Training & learning | Employee experience | Retail

Onboarding sets the tone for someone's journey of employment with your company.

Think of a physical journey. If you're held up in an airport for 4 hours, get interviewed by airport security, and then, once you’re finally settled on the plane, you’re forced to switch seats due to a mistake in the seating plan. No matter how picturesque and turbulence-free the rest of the flight is, your memory of the plane trip will be a negative one, and you’re unlikely to choose that airline again. 

It’s the same for the workplace. Bad onboarding sets a negative tone for the rest of an employee’s time working for a company.

This post will explain how onboarding affects retail workers, how it impacts businesses, and tips for creating an effective onboarding program.

Why it’s an issue

Employees who go through a poor onboarding won’t stick around very long. When employees go through onboarding, the onboarding program is all the experience they have of working for a company, so weaknesses are magnified. Many frontline workers are employed in retail and hospitality roles, industries which are notorious for high turnover - average staff turnover across all industries is 10.9%, but for retail, it's 13%

This is partly due to the fact that frontline retail roles attract many younger workers looking for a first job or seasonal role. Research by Forbes found that 48% of new hires in their first job have moved on within the first 18 months, so comparatively high turnover is somewhat to be expected. However, you may be shocked to find out that 28% of employees quit within their first 90 days with a company. The price of this is concerning as the cost of losing a new employee within the first 12 months equals 2 years of salary

A poor onboarding experience can make a new employee question whether they were right to take the job, but a great onboarding improves retention by up to 82%.

Even if an employee does not stay with a company for very long, they still deserve to have a positive workplace experience, and onboarding is a huge part of that. Furthermore, it’s beneficial to employers to invest in providing great onboarding for all employees: organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new-hire productivity and 51% of employees say they’d go “above and beyond” if they were given a good induction. 

Brand reputation is also damaged by insufficient onboarding programs. Employee knowledge fuels the conversations customers have when experiencing your stores, so a weak onboarding limits the productivity of these customer interactions. Feeling unprepared lowers employee confidence and prevents them from feeling empowered in their roles, only 28% of millennials find it easy to understand whether their work meets expectations. Not properly equipping retail employees with the knowledge they need doesn’t set up employees with what they need to deliver the ideal customer experience.

Overall, investing in effective onboarding makes employees more motivated to work at their best ability, provide great customer service, and recommend the company as a good place to work.


Steps for an effective onboarding:

There are 4 aspects of successful onboarding, they are:

  1. Compliance
  2. Clarification
  3. Culture
  4. Connection

Here’s how you can maximize the employee experience of each aspect during onboarding:



This involves familiarizing employees with brand standards and store policies that they need to abide by, these can include safety measures, enforcing social distancing and ensuring that products are displayed in the right way.

  • Explain why

Employees will be more motivated to comply with policies and standards if they understand why they are necessary. After outlining policies, explain why they are in place and the impact that not following them can have.

  • Spaced repetition

Typically during onboarding a huge amount of information is dumped on employees and then never re-visited. Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve demonstrates that without repetition, 50% of knowledge is forgotten within a day, and 90% is forgotten after a week.

When 40% of frontline employees are trained only once a year or less, it’s questionable whether typical training sessions are beneficial at all. Making bitesize learning (aka microlearning) available to continue the learning process after onboarding allows learners to mentally organize information and cement understanding, so they can remember information long-term.

Related: The Complete Guide to M Learning (Mobile Learning) in the Workplace

  • Make it fun

Brand standards and store policies aren’t the most exciting things to learn about, so deliver the information in a way that’s fun and engaging! Using a variety of different styles to deliver information such as videos, blogs, podcasts, gifs, animations, games and quizzes make the learning process more enjoyable, so new employees are more likely to remember the info.

Related: How Gamification of Training Boosts Employee Retention



This involves ensuring that employees understand their new role and what is expected of them.

  • Digitize training content 

A paperless approach to onboarding reduces admin costs and makes the process of filling out forms more efficient. Delivering handbooks and guidelines digitally makes them more accessible on the job so employees can refer back to them at any time.

  • Use checklists

Onboarding checklists list all of the onboarding activities that employees will need to complete and ensure that no steps are missed. This provides a structured start to their employment and helps employees to visualize what their first few days of work will look like.

Related: 5 Reasons to Switch to Digital Checklists

  • Make plans and set goals

Some turnover is inevitable, but employees are more likely to be retained if they have a clear idea of possibilities for progression. Set SMART goals, aka goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound so that new hires know the criteria for achieving targets and moving upwards within the company. For example, a SMART goal could be for a new hire to complete 5 pieces of learning within their first week of employment.



This involves immersing employees within the culture of the organization and embedding the business ethos and values.

  • Reflect company culture in onboarding

Think about your business values. If you want your employees to demonstrate them, you need to embed them in the workplace culture from day 1. If one of the key company values is reliability, it’s crucial that onboarding is clearly structured and all forms and materials are available as expected. If a business values being people-focused, ask employees how they learn best (for example self-directed learning or collaborative learning) and shape their onboarding around what works best for them. Showing that you put company values into practice makes new recruits likely to do the same and creates a cohesive onboarding experience.

  • Emphasize learning culture

Onboarding may be a one-off process that employees go through, but it’s crucial that learning is not a one-time thing. Employees need to be able to develop throughout their employment, so learning needs to be easily accessible at all times. Mobile microlearning that employees can access on the job allows employees to continuously develop their skills and builds learning into the workplace culture. This approach puts less pressure on new hires to take on board a tidal wave of new info during an information-dump style onboarding, as they’re able to access knowledge at their point of need.

Related: How to Create a Culture of Learning for Retail Teams



This involves connecting new hires to the company network and starting to build relationships.

  • Use social platforms

Employees feel more fulfilled if they feel socially connected. 89% of new hires want to meet with their new manager on the first day of employment, and 83% expect to be introduced to colleagues on their first day. However, 39% of frontline employees work in an isolated environment and will not meet most of their colleagues due to different work locations and shift patterns. A digital platform modelled after social media can help frontline employees feel more connected to their organization.

  • Show that employees are valued

New hires will be more invested in a company if it’s clear that management values employee contributions. Use company communications to celebrate high performers, welcome new joiners and celebrate birthdays. It’s also important to recognize the impact of frontline employees’ hard work and give shout-outs to teams who have completed the most learning, hit the most targets or received excellent customer feedback. Employees who understand the value of their work and know that their work will be recognized are more likely to put in their best efforts.

Related: 3 Benefits of Connected Frontline Employees


Key takeaways

Now that you understand the 4 elements of onboarding, ensure that your onboarding program encapsulates all of them. The most important thing to remember is that onboarding should set employees up to be:

  • Productive workers
  • Continuous learners
  • Active participants in company culture

The ideal way to achieve this is using a tool which streamlines tasks, makes learning accessible and continuous and connects employees to the rest of the organization. 


Find out how YOOOBIC's digital workplace with mobile learning can help you improve onboarding for your retail teams!