What Type of Retail Training Program Should You Implement?

While most retailers understand the need to utilize training and learning resources in order to improve sales productivity and to improve retail management practices, they are often challenged when it comes to making the decision with regard to what is the best format to use when developing a training program.  Should they utilize traditional classroom training methods or is computer based training better?  And what about using the new mobile learning tools?  Should they outsource their training program and try to develop it in house?  Let’s explore some of these topics:

When Should I Use E-learning or Computer-Based Training?

While there is no standard answer for using online training over instructor-led training a retailer or retail vendor might want to implement an e-learning or computer-based solution when…

·         Employees and Locations are Spread Across a Large Geographical Area.  When a retailer has multiple locations a significant amount of time (and money) can be wasted when either the trainer or the retail store personnel have to travel from location to location.  Beyond the costs associated with travel, there are issues with time spent off of the sales floor and the attendant issues with lost revenue and gross profit margin.

·         You are Launching a New Product, Program or Process on a Deadline.   Computer-based training can reach a vast number of people at the same time to meet difficult deadlines. Computer-based training is also not limited to space (facilities) or geographical boundaries (world-wide access).

·         To Simulate Systems or Applications That a Classroom Cannot Replicate. Are you launching a new POS system or new product that requires special handling through your POS?  E-Learning allows you to demonstrate these processes in an interactive environment that gives the learner “hands-on” experience and feedback as they practice the new skills

·         When Training Consistency is Critical.The disadvantage of classroom training is that each class is different based on the instructor's and/or students' personalities, energy and attitudes. However, online training courses provide perfect consistency in the delivery of the materials to provide everyone the same learning experience.  This makes it perfect for product training, operations training, and new employee orientations!

·         To Reduce Training Expense. Expenses of instructors, facilities, workbooks, and other supportive materials can take its toll on an education or training budget. When the budget is small, online learning can be a great alternative as it leverages the cost of existing assets like the computers and real estate that you are already paying for.

·         You Want to Reinforce Classroom Training.  Do you want to make your classroom training more impactful?  Then using computer-based training for retail is a perfect tool for distributing basic information prior to a training seminar as it gets everyone on the same page.  It also works as a great tool to reinforce retail concepts after an instructor-led training experience.



When Should I use Classroom Based Retail Training Programs?

While online learning is a great method to deliver training, it is not always the best option to achieve your training objectives. Instructor-led training is still an important tool for retailers to consider.  Classroom training is particularly impactful under the following circumstances:

·         When Retail Skills Training Content Focuses on Topics That Have Grey Areas.  If the topic requires justification for an answer which does not have a right or wrong answer, e-learning is not always the best alternative as if cannot contemplate for every variable. If you anticipate having to handle questions and answers then the classroom would be a better choice to deliver the training.

·         When the Training Objectives Focus on Practicing Retail Skills.While computer-based retail training is highly effective at presenting and communicating soft skill techniques it is not always an effective tool for providing feedback.  The truth is that role-playing works best in a live setting.

·         When You are Looking to Create “Hype”.  Are you launching a contest or making significant changes to the way you are going to do business going forward?  Whether it is a retail sales rally or special roll-out a classroom experience lets you get the music rocking and everyone involved.

·         When hands-on training is required.Computer-based training can simulate a lot of environments in the real world. However, certain situations that require touching or using something may require face-to-face training environments.  This could include site visits, facility tours, and more.

Mobile Learning…The next Big Thing?

We are hearing a lot about how mobile learning – commonly referred to as mlearning – is going to change the way retail companies train their team members.  Retailers can now deliver fast and engaging content directly to their employee’s smartphones or tablets!  But it is important to look at what mlearning can really deliver for retailers.  In many cases we are recommending that retailers keep mlearning on their horizon but not go actively into this space at this time.

·         Mobile Learning for Retail is Excellent for Short Video-Based Content.  Have you ever tried to really surf the web or view a PowerPoint on a smartphone?  It can be done, but after a few minutes it is a real challenge.  Mlearning is not a replacement for computer-based training, but it is a perfect vehicle for delivering short video content (think you tube) that speaks to a new product or to delivering retail training tips!

·         Use Mlearning for Assessments and Testing.  Did you just deliver a classroom or webinar style training?  Use mlearning tools to deliver quizzes, surveys, and assessments to help you reinforce the training or to find out if it is sticking with team members.

·         How and When is Retail Mlearning Delivered?  The advantage of the mlearning concept is that you can reach out and touch your team members wherever they are.  But the obstacle is that many retail employees may not have a smartphone or tablet computer.  Additionally there is the problem of tracking their work hours and payroll if they use the mlearning when they are “off the clock”.

·         Make sure your systems can deliver content to all devices.  Not all mobile are compatible with traditional video content.  Apple devices and other mobile devices are not always able to use the same style of content.  Make sure that you engage with a knowledgeable retail training consultant to assist you with implementing any mobile solution.

What About Webinar-style Virtual Classrooms?

Webinars have been around for a long time and can provide a great adjunct to your training programs.  They have some advantages and dome distinct challenges.

·         Advantage: Cost Savings.  If you are looking to roll-out a training program for retail that requires some give and take or Q&A but do not have the time of budget to handle a traditional classroom setting a Webinar is a good compromise as it allows you to present factual information in a visual manner while answering questions via the audio channel.

·         Disadvantage:Control and Measurement.  The biggest challenge with most webinar formats – especially in a retail environment – is that you have little to no control over what the trainees are doing.  Are they serving customers instead of training?  Or maybe they are surfing the web.  Additionally, unlike e-learning, there is no way to ensure that everyone is really participating…they may just have set the phone down.

Take a Blended Approach to Retail Training and Development / Consider Outsourcing

In addition to these types of training methods there are numerous other opportunities for training retail team members.  Whether it is through the use of workbooks, CD-ROM training, or one-on-one mentoring the most effective training programs use a blend of all of these training methodologies to improve reach and efficiency. 

There are many companies that can help you implement these solutions. Outsourcing your retail training may make sense.  This is especially true if you are just dipping your toe into the waters of creating an integrated retail training program or if some of these techniques are new to your company.  Many of these retail training companies will also custom develop or license their training content to you for less cost than you can develop the training solutions in-house

David Goodwin is the Principal of the Retail Advocacy Group.  As a 30 year veteran of the retail industry he has hired, trained, and performance managed thousands of retail sales representatives and retail managers.  You can learn more about instructor-led, e-learning, and other training solutions for retailers at www.retailertrainingservices.com