The Case for Modern Workplace Learning in Retail
A modern learning experience can help retailers engage staff while improving customer service.
The retail industry is experiencing unprecedented upheaval.
In the US, the retail industry today employs more than 13 million people and saw total sales hit $4.846 trillion in 2016, but it’s also facing a number of new challenges that are forcing retailers to rethink business models, as well as their approach to staff learning and development.
From new online competitors to a changing consumer demographic and evolving customer expectations, retailers large and small are being forced to reinvent themselves to survive and compete. Ecommerce sales in the US grew more than 15% in 2016, reaching more than $341 billion, with the web comprising close to 42% of all growth in the US retail market last year. What’s more, according to PwC’s Total Retail Survey 2017, 56% of consumers shop at Amazon and 36% say that social networks provide their main inspiration for purchases.
Outside of the external challenges presented by large and up-and-coming ecommerce players, the retail industry must also overcome internal obstacles, such as staff dissatisfaction, apathy, and an overall lack of employee engagement.
The retail industry suffers from a turnover rate of 35%. Retail organizations lose up to 236 million productive days to turnover and approximately $19billion in costs to hire and train new staff, with maintaining in-store processes and training in a high-employee turnover environment a top operational challenge. In an industry that revolves around customer experience, much more is being lost due to declining consumer satisfaction and brand equity because of unengaged employees.
Highly engaged employees typically deliver fantastic customer service. They also have the potential to become a retailer’s best brand ambassador. By engaging employees around learning, retailers can arm them with the technical skills they need to not only adapt to a quickly changing retail environment but also provide superior customer service that’s in-line with consumers’ changing expectations.
However, the retail industry’s homogeneous training strategy, which uses dated delivery methods and treats every individual the same regardless of their experience or past knowledge, is undermining the potential for staff engagement. For years, retail has relied on tried and true training methods. But traditional learning methods like checklists, reading and workbooks, classroom seminars, and on-the-job shadowing on topics such as “Five Steps to Customer Service” simply aren’t cutting it anymore.
By looking to a more modern learning and development paradigm, today’s retailers can help employees stay engaged with work by helping them develop the skills they need to adapt to a quickly-changing retail environment. They can also improve their level of customer service by equipping them with the ability to meet changing customer expectations.
Key elements of modern learning in retail
Progressive retailers are now revisiting their training programs with a fresh eye toward a modern workplace learning experience. They’re constructing learning and development around three modern learning pillars:
Situational and scenario-based learning
When learners can situate their learning within a familiar work environment—for instance, by seeing familiar pictures of their workplace—they’re able to tap into existing mental models and directly understand how their learning applies to their everyday work. Immediate application of training in real-life retail scenarios can minimize bad consumer experiences. Some retailers, like Walmart, are beginning to experiment with virtual reality to deliver this kind of training on topics such as management and customer service, supplementing more traditional methods.
Bite-sized content and microlearning
Progressive retailers put the focus on short digestible modules of content and different types of media such as video, infographics, and gamification to reinforce learning principles. Today’s employees want to be able to consume engaging, “just-in-time” pieces of learning content at the point of need. This ability is particularly useful in a customer support setting. PwC’s Total Retail 2017 study revealed that 78% of consumers rate “sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product range” as the most important factor when it comes to the in-store shopping experience.
Learning self-discovery and easily accessible and searchable assets
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Retail Talent Disrupted report, in order for retailers to develop a workforce that can overcome the unparalleled challenges facing the retail industry, retailers should enhance opportunity for skill development by making employee learning a continuous, self-directed process, rather than an episodic event, where employees can access the content they need, when they need it. Via a learning experience platform, employees can easily create and curate content or quickly find learning content in the moment of need. This ability to personalize and contextualize learning improves retention.