Skip to main content

VIDEO: Investing in Frontline Retail Employees Starts with Training

While there are numerous new tech platforms to help retailers improve efficiencies on their sales floor, a system is only as good as the frontline workers who use it.

This can’t be emphasized enough. Brick-and-mortar retailing has already suffered greatly—with consumers migrating to e-commerce faster than you can say “free shipping”—and the frontline work force now is being tasked with more complex jobs. This leads to sub-optimal job performance, outright mistakes and high turnover.

Multiply that by thousands of frontline employees and it really puts a retailer at risk.

“Before, employees just had to put the stock out, work with the customer and ring up the register,” said Michael Appel, president of retail consultancy Appel Associates and the former CEO of retail chain Rue 21. “Now, we’ve added all these software solutions, payment solutions, buy online, pick up in store [BOPIS], ship from store, and more. Things that didn’t even exist before now make an employee’s job much more complex. And it’s tougher for them to feel mastery.”

Complex on-the-job training, however, is easier said than done. Science has shown that humans lose up to 90 percent of what they learn if it’s not reinforced within 30 days. Retailers need a dynamic, training system that’s fun enough that workers want to use it, plus engaging and educational enough so they retain what they learn.

“Axonify has created a gamified, three-to-five minute a day learning experience that the associate can access on their own mobile device,” says Christine Tutssel, vice president of sales, Axonify, stressing the convenience and importance of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as a way to simplify training. “You can’t afford to take customers off the floor to train them. You need something that fits into the flow of work.”

Related Stories

And while an undertrained employee is bad, a trained employee who doesn’t stick around is worse. The answer to employee retention is giving them the tools to feel mastery of their job, so they don’t get frustrated and quit.

It’s all about data, which the Axonify platform gathers with AI. Via the daily learning tasks, the system can see who knows what, and who needs more work in certain areas for optimal learning.

Once the system accrues data on frontline workers, it must be given to the store managers so they can understand who knows what, where the gaps are, and who needs to be coached to better perform their job. “In a large operation where you have thousands and thousands of employees, it’s really hard to guess what everyone needs,” says Tutssel. “Use data, act upon it, then retailers can get those efficiencies.”

A well-trained work force also drives the bottom line, both for retailers and employees. Understanding new payment systems, like Klarna or Afterpay for example, will empower the employee to promote them to customers, which in turn drives more retail sales and employee commission. Sales associates who are intimidated by such tech platforms due to lack of training, might just avoid them altogether.

The trick is for retailers to understand that investing in their employees means investing in their business.

“Retailers buttonhole anything to do with knowledge or training into a Human Resources thing, but it’s not a little HR thing,” Appel said. “It’s a strategic issue for the company.”

Check out more in Sourcing Journal’s ‘On the Ground’ video series, which brings new and needed voices in the supply chain to the fore.