People – training and developing

20 years ago in retail, ‘training’ meant you learned everything via the classroom that you needed to know for the day you arrived in store ready to delight your customers. You had ongoing training too; modules to build your knowledge and gain skills.

You could spend days just on checkout training, learning all the ways a customer could pay, what to do with a luncheon voucher, how to print the back of a cheque, how to handle refunds, etc. The list went on and on.

But now, the only ‘solid’ training is on the checkouts, despite the advancement of checkout systems, the abandonment of cheques and the rapid pace of card and contactless payments.

The same attention just isn’t paid to looking after customers or guiding colleagues to use their judgment. Despite the average lifetime value of a customer placed at around c.£100k, very little training is given on scanning gaps and changing inventory figures, for example, or even filling the shelves (which requires some skill and working to a level of detail for those in the know).

The impact of poor inventory maintenance and filling on the store means sales fall as availability falters, which in turn causes customers to stop trusting the store at key times, and to go to competitors. Stock builds up, which impacts working capital, with money tied up in stock that fundamentally isn’t needed. Customers then quickly see poor availability and are unable to get their shopping list in full, while service from store colleagues worsens as their stress levels rise, and warehouses fill up with the wrong type of stock.

It’s quite the snowball. But that’s retail life.

Two decades ago, trainees gained knowledge from more experienced colleagues who would demonstrate the correct way to do things and ensure best practice was maintained. These days, experienced colleagues can be few and far between, and they’re busy in their roles, which often leaves them with little time to impart knowledge to their less-experienced counterparts.

Many jobs have been ‘deskilled’ and numerous restructures have seen some long-serving colleagues leave and be replaced by those with less experience. This can, in a worst-case scenario, lead to endemic bad practice being passed on to new colleagues by existing staff who themselves haven’t been shown the right way either.

It’s quite the challenge, and the impact is vast and can go right across all the functions of a retail business, as shown above, in just one example involving two basic tasks.

In 2020 (and beyond), e-learning is the training method of choice. Apps offer training for people to read at their leisure (or to complete as quickly as possible), and in many cases, colleagues are simply asked to watch a video and sign a document to confirm that they have watched it, with no follow-up provided. No questions. No check back. Done.

Training also can mean half-interested colleagues signing their lives away on everything from the latest legal training to who to sell alcohol to, with barely a glance at the material or the reality of what one needs to actually know in order to carry out a task correctly, or legally.

Putting colleagues and management in front of the customers – the most valuable people on earth to a retailer – without properly equipping them with training, skills, or, in some cases, even a uniform, is astonishing. Yet, we know it happens up and down the land every single day of the year. With the market pushing for lower and lower prices, a race to the bottom is underway, with some retailers celebrating a goalless draw in the battle to ‘run the least worst stores’.

But we can help. We have the knowledge, we understand the challenges and we know the reality of retail too, having been there ourselves. At 5am. On a Saturday. In December. Where it’s warmer in the Produce chiller than by the back door where the deliveries arrive.

We can help train and develop people from all sectors by building knowledge, whether they’re in a store, at head office, inside a marketing agency, or a graduate intake at a supplier. We can explain what really happens in store, how the mechanics of retail work, where you fit into it, and how you can make people in the chain happier by playing your part.

Let’s make retail great again.