How to Create a Retail Training Program Your Staff Will Love

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Few things have been guaranteed over the last year, but with vaccines, stimulus checks and summer on the horizon, one thing is for sure: Retail stores are about to see a surge in foot traffic, and after cutting staff anywhere from once to multiple times in the past several months, retailers are suddenly finding themselves in need of a stacked payroll again. The National Retail Federation anticipates retail sales growing between 6.5 percent and 8.2 percent in 2021, and 62% of consumers plan on shopping in store at least once a week this year.

Whether you’re onboarding new hires or welcoming back past employees, training your employees will be key to creating an in-store environment that makes not only customers feel safe, appreciated and understood, but also your staff! Research shows that a strong employee onboarding program can increase employee retention by 82% and productivity by 70%, while a negative experience results in employees being twice as likely to look for other opportunities. After all the time you’ve put into recruiting and hiring, don’t make onboarding an afterthought.

Here’s how to onboard and train your sales associates to encourage employee happiness, productivity and retention, in turn creating satisfied customers and boosting your bottom line.

1. Focus on safety

So maybe not the most fun part of onboarding, but in today’s climate, it’s critical to making your staff and customers feel comfortable and protected, so let’s address safety first.

  • Show (don’t tell!) your cleaning and disinfecting routine, including techniques, materials and frequency.

  • Discourage staff gatherings on the floor or at the cash wrap. Even if you know your staff is healthy, it can turn off wary customers.

  • Address how to deal with customers who refuse to abide by capacity or mask regulations.

  • Be open to feedback: Ask your employees how they’re feeling and what else would make them more comfortable at work.

2. Create an enticing employee handbook

...but not by that name.

Sure, a policy manual it may in fact be, but good luck inspiring your new hires to take that home and read at their leisure. Have fun with it and choose a name that suits your company brand, like “The [BUSINESS NAME] Experience” or “The [BUSINESS NAME] Way,” and don’t skimp on a layout and design that embodies your aesthetic.

Here are a few best practices and items to include in your retail employee handbook. Remember to include your PPE guidelines and social media policy as well — it is 2021, after all!

3. Take your time with technology

First things first: Do not underestimate the value of user-friendliness in selecting your store’s point of sale system. Consider your employees’ technology comfort level, and keep in mind that what may feel intuitive to you may not to them. The good news is, modern POSs like Heartland Retail offer powerful features that are also easy to learn, train and use — no need to sacrifice performance or functionality. This means you’ll save on training costs and time, while giving your staff a comprehensive system that makes their lives easier.

4. Make it hands on.

Pre-recorded training sessions are a helpful reference, but we learn by doing. Take advantage of your POS’s training account and let your trainees play around with the software, ring sales and returns, run reports and get familiar with the inventory. This will give them a sense of ownership, and you a sense of confidence. Heartland Retail also allows admins to set permissions, so you don’t have to worry about them accessing any data or performing any actions not within their job descriptions.

5. Break it up.

While you may be tempted to get your new associates on the floor as quickly as possible, rushing through training won’t do either of you any favors. Learning curves exist even in the most simple POS platforms, so you’ll want to give your staff time to observe, absorb and practice. Break retail POS training into modules:

  • Point of Sale: How to ring a sale and process payments, returns, orders and promotions

  • Inventory: How to receive, transfer, look up, adjust and replenish inventory

  • Customers Management: How to add a customer, look up a customer dashboard and how to use them to increase sales

  • Order Fulfillment

  • Reporting

  • Integrations

6. Prioritize product knowledge

Customers can see right through a sales associate who isn’t familiar with what they’re selling. Maybe your newest employee was already one of your customers, but if not, brand and product training must be a priority.

If you’re an apparel or shoe boutique, have them try on recent arrivals, so they can speak to sizing and fit. If you’re a gift store, make sure they have appropriate go-to products when a shopper asks for recommendations. Not only does this activity tend to be one of the most enjoyable parts of training, it will also empower your staff to engage strategically and ultimately sell more!

7. Role play

Walk your employees through real-life customer interactions — especially those trickier situations. From how to greet shoppers to how to address angry ones, preparing your staff for a realm of common (or even outlier) scenarios is critical to their confidence, your customers’ happiness and your business’s reputation.

8. Use the buddy system

Especially if you have a larger staff, pair new hires with seasoned ones, and — as possible — schedule their shifts together for the first handful of weeks. Now they have a point person, taking some pressure off of you and/or your managers. As your new team members start working with customers, their onboarding buddy should coach them in real time while discreetly offering feedback.

Training doesn’t have to stop at onboarding. Schedule regular staff meetings to go over sales plans, wins and losses, product education and upcoming events or promotions. These can also be used for professional development — choose a dedicated topic, like techniques for upselling or a POS feature they might not be taking advantage of — for each gathering. It’s unlikely you have your entire staff in the store at one time (or maybe you even have multiple locations), so hold these as video calls to involve as many people as possible. It will create a sense of camaraderie among team members whose schedules may not often overlap.


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