How Retail Sales Training Makes or Breaks the Customer Shopping Experience

How Retail Sales Training Makes or Breaks the Customer Shopping Experience

11 August 2022

Customer experience | Retail | Marketoonist

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Retail sales training underpins the entire experience that customers have when they enter a store.

Today customers have online reviews, product specs and brand comparison guides at their fingertips, so they are more knowledgeable about products than ever before. If store teams can’t keep up, customers won’t be impressed.

On the flip side, effective retail associate training is a true competitive advantage. 

A McKinsey report: ‘What’s next for digital consumers’, found that the main reasons for consumers choosing physical stores over digital shopping channels was that they preferred going to the store and talking to other humans.

Store associates are the main asset drawing customers away from their screens and into stores. They are the face of your brand and the trusted curators of the brand experience for in-store customers.

With the right training, store associates are ‘knowledge workers’ who can use a diverse range of skills and knowledge to deliver a truly customer-centric experience which will keep shoppers coming back.

But this doesn’t always happen…

Find out more about why retail workers are 'Knowledge Workers' in 2022 in this blog post!


When retail sales training goes wrong…

How many times have you left a store because you felt like the customer service was lacking?

Imagine you’re buying new sneakers. You look online and find a limited edition pair has just been released in a designer brand collaboration with your favorite music artist. To your disappointment, they’re sold out in your size online, so you go to the local store to check if there might be some in stock. You ask the store associate for help and they’ve never heard of the shoe or the artist who designed them. They say maybe there might be some and go to search the stockroom, then come back empty-handed saying they’re not sure if they have them and they need to wait for a manager to help. This leaves you frustrated and you decide to try another store instead of wasting more of your time.

The sales associate has failed to provide the unique element that they can offer to customers: expert service with a personal touch, catered to the individual needs of each customer. Something that online shopping can only aim to mimic with algorithms. 

But it’s not the fault of store associates when they don’t have the skills or information to keep up with customers.

A survey of 1,400 frontline workers found that 49% don’t think that onboarding prepared them well for their job and 58% don't think their organization has invested in their professional development.

Evidently, retailers are not effectively investing in sales associates and store teams lack confidence in their ability to do their jobs. This results in dissatisfied customers and a huge amount of lost revenue.

With the right retail sales training, the store associate would have recognized the product, been able to check whether it was in stock, and if not, either order more in or recommend similar ones. They would have used their skills and expertise to earn customer trust and loyalty.


How to transform sales associate training for a better customer shopping experience:


1. Nurture soft skills 

Understanding products and processes are important, but your store associates need to be able to bring the personal touch to their roles. They also deserve to develop transferable skills which will serve them throughout their careers.

Investing in transferable personal and professional skills is great for employee retention and engagement as it shows employees that the organization truly cares about their development. 1 in 4 frontline employees say that opportunities for career growth would make them want to stay longer in their current company. 

Providing all store associates with training in soft skills like communication, negotiation and customer service ensures that every customer feels listened to, understood and prioritized. They need to be able to steer the direction of the conversation and guide casual shoppers to a purchase decision without making them feel pressured. 

This type of selling takes skill.

An example of a retailer who do this well is GANT, who provide store associates with training around how their brand relates to pop culture trends like art, music and Netflix shows. This empowers the sales associates to have more meaningful conversations with customers using cultural references.

Scenario-based training which teaches employees how to ask the right questions, actively listen and communicate effectively equips them to deliver a truly personalized shopping experience for each customer.


2. Continuously provide learning opportunities beyond onboarding

 Store teams need to be able to learn regularly for two reasons:

a) They need the most up to date training to be able to do their jobs efficiently.

b) They need to be able to become lifelong learners.

With technology evolving so rapidly, new jobs are constantly being created and existing ones are changing to incorporate new responsibilities and tools. Of course onboarding is important, but today’s workforce will need to be lifelong learners in order to keep up. 

For more information around onboarding, check out this blog post Retail Onboarding: Why the best retailers love to teach!

To develop this habit, employees need opportunities to learn continuously without disrupting their flow of work. Store teams need to be fully trained in the latest processes and be well-versed in the newest product information, but when their working days are hectic they don’t always have time to familiarize themselves with the relevant training.

Mobile microlearning delivers retail associate training in bitesize chunks which employees can access without leaving the shop floor, keeping them in the loop with the latest information without overwhelming them.

This means that increasingly well-informed customers will be served by knowledgeable store associates who can provide up to date expertise, recommendations and services that meet and exceed expectations.


3. Measure and analyze both knowledge and confidence

Customers expect sales associates to provide the right information, but they also expect them to be confident that the information is right. If employees don’t sound confident, customers will lose faith in their expertise and as a result, your brand.

Confidence-based learning assesses both how well store teams have retained training content, but also how confident they are in applying it. Compared to traditional assessments which only measure knowledge retention, confidence-based assessments prevent learners from scoring highly from guessing.

This approach allows regional managers to spend more time coaching store associates who might not be as confident or are over-confident but haven’t retained the correct knowledge. Measuring and analyzing these metrics allows you to establish which retail sales training programs are most effective and where more focus on training is needed, which ensures every customer is served by a knowledgeable and confident store associate.

Discover more proven tactics to transform the retail customer experience and train your store associates to become best sellers in this webinar-on-demand with world-leading expert on brick-and-mortar retail, Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor.