Years ago, physical retailers had an advantage over their online competitors: convenience.
You could order a product online and wait a week or two, or you could hop in your car and run to your local big box store.
Those days are gone.
Customers can find a larger selection online and receive products at their door — sometimes in a matter of hours — for no additional cost. Purchasers can shop from the comfort of their home without battling crowds, sifting through half-empty shelves, waiting in lines, or dealing with unpleasant staff.
Most shoppers prefer to purchase books, music, movies, video games, and toys online. Remaining categories like clothing, furniture, and groceries are still in-store favorites, but the tide is shifting. Online retailers are working hard to capture those sales as well.
60%+ of global shoppers prefer to purchase books, music, movies, video games, and toys online. –PWC Study 2017
In response, big brick-and-mortar shops are building their online presence. Wal-Mart’s even scanning individual fruits and vegetables for future online shoppers. The competition to transition physical purchases to online conversions is becoming a race to the bottom. The loser? Physical retail locations. One consulting firm calls the phenomenon a ‘Retail Apocalypse.’
Physical retailers still have a powerful advantage: the in-store experience.
The key value a brick-and-mortar retailer can provide that online retailers can’t is an in-store experience. What happens to shoppers in your store can either bring them back or drive them away (and towards someone else’s website).
Potential customers gauge your store’s service through asking friends and reading reviews. You can measure the quality of your in-store experience the same way.
When a customer leaves your store, their feelings about the experience dictate whether or not they’ll come back, write a good or bad review, and tell their friends to visit or stay away.
This classic study from Harvard Business School discovered that, for each one-star increase in overall Yelp rating, restaurants experienced a revenue bump of 5-9%. As savvy customers look up location reviews before visiting stores (and as map providers like Google include ratings in their map results), customers steer toward highly reviewed retailers in other industries, too. The corollary? Those same customers veer away from poorly rated retailers.
“To over-deliver in service to a customer is by far the most valuable thing to a business. Because, there are only two ways to improve the operations of a business: increase sales or decrease costs. In today’s environment, decreasing costs is hard. And as far as increasing sales, doing so via customer service is highly effective.” -Daymond John
But the in-store customer experience is a double-edged sword…
Take a look at these reviews from two different big box locations:
2 star review that significantly impacted this location’s rating.
“I was here with a family member that was having problems walking.
An employee came up and told them that they couldn’t lean on the wall during Black Friday. I was really offended and told them she is leaning on the wall because she is having issues walking.
A more appropriate employee reaction would be to ask the customer if they are okay. I couldn’t believe the insensitivity of the employee to an elderly person.
My family spent 2k+ there that night and looking back will probably just shop somewhere else after that experience.”
1 star review that significantly impacted this location’s rating.
“They had sent me the wrong refrigerator filter so I wanted to exchange it for the correct one. They refused as it had been more than 14 days. Manager gave attitude and didn’t care that just earlier this year I had purchased 5-6 large appliances from them.
It’s experiences like this that make Amazon and online retailers seem so much more attractive and less of a hassle.”
I wish I could say that reviews like these were uncommon. They aren’t.
Many prominent businesses squander the one major opportunity they have to provide added value that online retailers can’t. And you know the adage, “A reputation takes a lifetime to build and a second to lose.”
Creating consistent, amazing in-store experiences is easier than you think
Look back at those reviews above. The first review chronicled a less-than-polite Black Friday worker. This retail team member was probably new and probably seasonal. Good thing an experienced team member showed up to solve the problem, right?
This customer will probably never purchase from the store again, in person or online. And the review still tarnished the store’s reputation.
Whatever this retailer currently does to train seasonal workers hasn’t been working. Should corporate double down on training expenditures? Maybe. But maybe there’s a more effective and efficient way than whatever they’ve done so far.
What about the second review, the one where the customer explicitly recommends shopping on Amazon?
Maybe the manager was having a bad day, or maybe the customer was on-edge. Should this retailer buy thousands of licenses to a course in nonviolent communication to ensure no manager ever makes the same mistake? Should they rework their vision and values from the top down in a crisis of corporate identity? Probably not.
The very same tools that enable the retail apocalypse, smart devices, connectivity everywhere, and real-time analytics, enable you to take control of your in-store experience.
And you can actually save money in the process.
3 training essentials for stellar in-store experiences
We attributed the cause of the negative reviews quoted above to lack of experience and lack of communication skills. Both incompetencies can be corrected through effective training.
Thankfully, the most effective forms of training are also now the easiest to deploy. Here are three guidelines for training that will shape your retail workers and consequently your customers’ in-store experience:
- Make training sessions quick.
- Provide training sessions often.
- Make training mobile–accessible anytime, anywhere.
1. Quick training
When staff receives training in quick bursts, rather than in hours or days, the training is less disruptive to other tasks and routines. If you offer your workers training for several minutes at a time, rather than hours, you can fit sessions into the course of a normal work shift. This style of quick training also enables programs that meets our other criteria.
Quick training is also more effective. The Journal of Educational Computing Research reports that retention is higher in students who spend a few minutes on training rather than a full hour or more.
2. Frequent training
Offering your workers short training sessions regularly, rather than once a month, or even just once a week, provides two benefits:
- Your workers will retain their learnings better. Regular bursts are actually proven to enhance retention.
- When your staff is training more regularly, you can introduce them to information updates more easily. No more waiting till next month to review new product details. Your team can do it on their next shift during their 3-minute training session.
3. Mobile training
Most training requires employees to attend events or schedule time to watch videos for hours in back rooms. In fact, only 1% of training is currently provided through mobile devices.
But young adults spend, on average, four to five hours using their mobile devices. Why not simply mix training into an employee’s existing daily routine?
What’s more, 84% of all training expenses fund training for senior leadership. While such training surely provides value, how often do senior leaders interact with customers in the store?
If you want to directly influence a customer’s in-store experience, train your front-line staff.
How to develop effective retail training programs
Rather than build out a sophisticated LMS, invest in a simple and flexible platform. Our platform makes training sessions easy to create, edit, duplicate, and deploy.
The training experience feels like a game, and employees can complete a session in minutes, wherever they are, whenever they have a couple minutes free. The games take no longer than 3 minutes to complete and take under 10 minutes to build.
You capture the essentials I mentioned earlier. And when you do that, you’re on your way to reduced, increased sales, and competent, confidence team members driving amazing in-store experiences. reduce costs, and because of improved retention, your competent staff is better equipped and confident to deliver that amazing in-store experience.
How to get your employees to participate
The most effective training programs don’t force employee participation. Managers find incentives that motivate employees to get better at the games. We’ve seen contest rewards work very well.
Use positive incentives and gamify the experience for your team. Make it fun. Some rewards we’ve seen work well include Amazon gift cards for the top player of the month, or dinner with the CEO.
How to measure your results
We use the following metrics to measure training ROI in retail and service sectors:
- Knowledge retention;
- Change in sales productivity;
- Increase in quality of customer service (measured through customer reviews surveys).
You can measure knowledge retention through looking at training results. Since your new quick training is structured like a quiz, you can simply measure an employee’s score improvement over time.
You’re already measuring your sales as a store. There’s a good chance you’re measuring by department or product category. If you pay commission, you’re definitely measuring sales per employee. Look at change over time to see if you’re headed in the right direction.
Finally, you can judge how your in-store experience improves through your new reviews. You can also offer customer surveys. Surveys can catch bad experiences before they land on your Yelp page.
What to expect in the future
Remember our bad reviews from way back in this article? They illuminate a key trend in the labor market that all employers should learn about: the growing skills gap.
The term “skills gap” refers to the difference between the skill sets needed to complete a job and the skill sets available to employers. In the first review, the “don’t lean on the wall” guy obviously didn’t know how to treat customers. In the second review, the manager lacked the tact and skill of a more seasoned employee.
Current training programs aren’t keeping pace to close these gaps. And new generations of workers respond differently to different training styles.
Rather than fret over generational differences, we actually leverage these preferences in learning styles. Both millennials and Gen Z understand gaming, so we use gamification to train effectively and close the skills gap.
Confident employees lead to better in-store customer experience and more sales
By now you should recognize a few truths:
- Your store provides customers with something online retailers can’t: an in-store experience.
- Your in-store experience can add or subtract tremendous value. When you add value to your customers, you increase sales.
- You can ensure consistently amazing in-store experiences when are people are ready to work. This only happens when your training is accessible, effective, and used consistently.
You’ll ensure better in-store customer experiences and boost business. If that sounds like something you want to do, chat with us. We’re here to help.