Study: 31% Of Retail Associates Still Don’t Receive Formal Workplace Training

Although it’s becoming increasingly accepted that retailers must give their employees a reason to stay (beyond just a paycheck) if they want to improve their culture and ultimately provide an excellent customer experience, 31% of all frontline retail employees still say they do not receive any formal workplace training, according to the Axonify State of Frontline Workplace Training Study.

The lack of formal training is even higher for part-time employees (36%), who might have less incentive to stay in the first place if their retail work is an in-between or secondary job.

“We started to realize that frontline workers are incredibly underserved in the minds, and in the actual activities, efforts and dollars devoted to their learning and development inside organizations,” said Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. She added that because store-level associates outnumber by orders of magnitude a typical retailer’s corporate employees, the lack of training affects a large number of people — and ironically, these are the people who are most responsible for creating the customer’s perception of the brand.


“When a retail organization thinks about how they compete in a global marketplace and how they engender loyalty from customers and get them to walk into the store, the employee on the floor is incredibly important to the financial success of the organization,” said Leaman.

Associates Stop Paying Attention 11 Minutes Into ‘Classroom-Style’ Training Sessions

Keeping these retail associates engaged in the moment requires giving them information instantly when they’re on the floor, but the process can’t feel like a burden — it has to be fun. As many as 27% said their training isn’t effective enough because it is too boring and not engaging enough.

“Associates want interesting-looking, snack sized, Google-like access to the information that they’re seeking,” Leaman said. “That’s entirely possible now without ever pulling the individual off the floor to do it. There are many things that we now know as far as how the brain finds and retains information. If you pull new employees into a classroom and ‘firehose’ them for a day, or a few days, with all the information they need to do their jobs well, the average person stops listening after 11 minutes. This happens even more quickly when it’s information they already know.”

This ‘mental checkout’ effect hampers retailers due to the overload of information presented, with the average person only remembering 7% to 9% of what they learned 30 days after the classroom session took place. Leaman encourages retailers to establish repetitive but digestible teaching habits, via mobile quizzes and fun facts to ignite memory creation on the store sales floor.

Retail Lags Sales, Finance Industries In Training, But Outlook Improving For 2020

Retail employees rate their training as 55% effective, a shade below the 58% of manufacturing employees who rated their training as effective. But retailers rank well behind two industries in training effectiveness: Professional Sales (70%) and Finance and Insurance (67%).

“Historically speaking, retailers have lagged in terms of their applications of new technologies, new processes and things that are going to help them be much more competitive,” Leaman said. “Fortunately, I think it’s changing. They’re being dragged, whether they like it or not, into the present day in the modern world, both because of globally competitive factors and also the changing demographic of their customers and their workforce.”

Leaman believes retail training will start to change significantly for the better in 2020 due to growing awareness of associate turnover and its bottom-line impact. She cites the fact that more retailers are empathizing with associates’ feelings that they are disposable employees, along with the present labor shortage that has made it more difficult for retailers to fill roles.

‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Mindset Plagues Retail Training Practices, Even As Job Roles Change

Retailers can learn a lot from the training routines of the professional sales and finance/insurance industries, which tend to be heavily focused on higher-order skills and knowledge and product information. Retail, on the contrary, is traditionally focused on general tactics that are rarely personalized for the individual employee or their job role.

“They tend to be one-size-fits-all,” Leaman said. “‘Here’s 100 things we need every single person in this store to know.’ It’s not done in a way that is highly tailored to the individual’s tenure or experience in the role, or their demonstrated levels of skill, or any of the things that would make the learning curve continue in a positive and upward direction for each individual. We’ve seen a good amount of progress within finance, insurance and professional sales, who focus much more on selling skills, how to position complex products, engendering customer loyalty so they don’t go to a competing financial advisor or competitor. By their nature, it’s more personalized to the individual, and more effective when it’s accessible in the moment of need.”

Future-Focused Skills Training Remains Mild Priority Despite Millennial Push

Perhaps one of the biggest problems within organizations trying to keep their employees, in both retail and other industries, is that they simply don’t think ahead to what a worker wants out of a position in the long term. Only 41% of employees say their organization offersadditional training designed to develop skills for the future.

This clashes heavily with the interests of 89% of Millennials, who value future-focused training more than their older peers: 81% of Gen Xers and only 59% of Baby Boomers. 

76% of frontline workers across industries say that future-focused development would make an employer more attractive to them,” Leaman said. “There’s a big disconnect there between those that offer future-focused training and the desire of the frontline workforce for that training. When you’re thinking about the competition for talent, opening up the possibilities and being an employer that is actively thinking about those opportunities could make you an employer of choice. The more of that you can get, the less turnover you’re going to have and the better your bottom line will be.”

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