There are approximately 3.22 million retail sales associates working in the US. Most of us, at one time or another, will have worked in a store, perhaps part-time as a student.
In an increasingly automated world, these sales associates are a retailer’s most valuable asset. The one thing that can’t be replaced by an algorithm is real, human interaction.
But when it comes to making cutbacks, sales teams are often hit the hardest. Staffing costs total ‘more than half of a typical retailer’s selling, general and administrative expenses’, making it a prime target for spending cuts.
But as ambassadors for your brand, it is essential that sales associates are given the support and encouragement they need to excel. Here’s how to do it:
Treat your sales associates as an investment
One of the biggest investments you can make in your store teams is in their training. Often, new employees are trained when they first arrive and then never again. This is understandable - staff turnover is notoriously high in retail, and it can seem like a waste of time and effort to offer constant training.
The problem with that approach is that it ignores the correlation between sales associate training and store performance. Those who haven’t been trained on the latest product launch, for example, come across as ill-informed and unhelpful, which pushes potential customers to make their purchases elsewhere, probably online.
Encouraging your staff to make continuous improvement with targeted microlearning, on the other hand, will help them stay on top of their game and arm them for whatever customer request may come their way.
Investing in your sales associates is also about keeping them engaged. Employees do their best work when they feel valued, and when they feel a sense of loyalty to their company.
One way of doing this is by knowing when to trust them to call the shots. Nordstrom, for example, doesn’t actually have a returns policy. They let their sales associates decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether customers should be given a refund or not. Of course, not every retailer has to go this far - but creating a culture of responsibility and teamwork helps boost employee engagement and encourages them to do well.
Provide them with tailored training programs
Sales training is not a “one size fits all” situation. Not only do different employees require different skill sets depending on their responsibilities, but they also all learn in different ways. In fact, there are no less than seven different learning styles: for example, some people are visual learners, some learn by doing, and so on.
For store managers, this means paying close attention to your team’s motivations and tailoring your approach accordingly. Every team is different, so why should there be just one training scheme?
And as the landscape of retail continues to change, sales associates have to be flexible - meaning they have to be able to learn and retain new information quickly. If, for example, you’ve only been trained for women’s wear, and then due to a staffing shortage have to switch suddenly to menswear, what do you do? You don’t necessarily know about what styles are in stock, or even how the sizings work. Through no fault of your own you look unprofessional, and sales are lost.
To avoid these instances and provide sales teams with the knowledge and confidence they need, training has to be quick, easily digestible, and above all, fun.
We’re all familiar with the crushing boredom of watching an outdated training video from the nineties, or periodically having to refer to a dusty manual in the staff room just before a store visit. Needless to say, these are not effective learning tools. So, how do you do it?
Use technology to your advantage
Don’t panic - as we said earlier, no app or chatbot can ever replace the essential human element of retail sales. But when it comes to team training, the future certainly lies in microlearning.
We’ve already mentioned microlearning, but what exactly is it? Put simply, it’s all about learning things in small, manageable chunks that are easy for people to absorb and retain.
This is the perfect training method for sales associates. When you have to be accessible on the shop floor and be able to quickly switch between multiple different tasks, lengthy training sessions aren’t really an option. It is far more effective - and efficient - for store teams to make use of regular, modular training that allows them to learn on the go.
Another advantage of microlearning is that it can be easily gamified. Turning training into a fun activity - or even a friendly competition amongst teams - will increase engagement, on top of helping teams to retain information more effectively. Fun and informative? It’s a win-win!
Well-trained associates are an asset to your business, as their improved skills drive conversions and lead to increased revenue. But ultimately, the greatest advantage of boosting your teams’ engagement is that sales associates who feel supported, and who feel like they have a stake in how well their store is doing, will actually want to do their best. After all, job satisfaction is the best form of motivation.
YOOBIC Boost is a gamified training solution which helps motivate store associates with targeted microlearning and evaluates store teams’ performance and progress. Find out more here.