Navigating retailer in-store technology needs

Aug 03, 2015
Paula Rosenblum

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

A trend has been building over the past three years and it seems to have reached critical mass: Retailers are recognizing the real importance of the in-store employee in creating a better in-store experience for consumers.

On the surface this sounds great, but we found somewhat conflicting data in this year’s store benchmark report: "Empowering The Store Employee: Benchmark Report 2015."

Retailers are definitely increasing the importance and base pay of their in-store employees.

But here’s the catch: Retailers, of all sizes, shapes, performance levels and segments are paying short shrift to training their existing employees. The chart below is pretty sobering:

New store associates are most frequently given less than ten hours of training each year and existing store associates (who retailers might be considering their "bench" for managerial talent") aren’t getting any more training. In fact, they’re getting less.

RSR Training chart=

Source: “Empowering The Store Employee: Benchmark Report 2015” – RSR Research

(Walmart has pledged a large sum of money for training, but the amount still pales in comparison to the size of their associate base.)

It’s my opinion that we’re not going to see the number of training hours rising any time soon. Retailers are investing in more bodies in stores. They’re paying somewhat better wages. But there seems to be no time or money left for training.

The implications are clear: Anyone — vendor or IT group — expecting to deliver technology to in-store associates must make sure it takes almost no time to learn and adapt to that technology.

Just as NCR’s Dynakey technology allowed supermarket check-out clerks to use the calculator paradigm to enter sales information, retailer tech providers must find a simple paradigm for everything from product locators, cross-sells and up-sells, product feature/benefits, logging into in-store Wi-Fi, counting cash and closing out tills. If it’s a technology a store associate will use, it had better be simple.

Are today’s tech vendors concentrating enough on making in-store technology easy to learn and use? What’s the likelihood that retailers will expand resources around training to meet the needs of emerging in-store technologies?

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"I’ve always been that annoying guy who argues that training without tools is inadequate to ensure success. Well, it’s also true that tools without training lead to suboptimal results."

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13 Comments on "Navigating retailer in-store technology needs"

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Bob Phibbs
5 years 1 day ago

This is a trend I’ve noticed over the past three years, as well that training time has gotten reduced to zero as two-person coverage has spread to stores that were originally designed to work with six or more. That’s why I had to create a system of short three- to five-minute interactive lessons to train employees on how to sell. The days of long conferences, hotels, meals and the rest can’t be budgeted.

Taking an associate off the floor for ten minutes a week for personalized online training is easy. Easy and short are what all trainings need to become.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
5 years 1 day ago

Outstanding article! Training is the “black hole” of retail that few talk about.

The logistics and costs of training floor associates are formidable. With multiple shifts and a high percentage of part-time associates, it is extremely difficult to gather associates for even a quick huddle meeting. The costs of pulling a whole group from the floor for a training class are simply cost prohibitive for most retailers!

Yet the number one competitive advantage and differentiator stores have left are the people who have the knowledge and skills to create a compelling consumer experience.

Technology may be part of the answer. Yet as this article points out, hardware and software are expensive, and require training if it is new and different. As Paula Rosenblum adeptly points out — if technology is the answer, it had better be simple and familiar.

Let’s see now … what technology does every associate have in their pocket that they are already using on the job? Smartphones. Who can create an app for the number one portal that associates are addicted to?

Ian Percy
5 years 1 day ago
Again with the technology! Good grief! So while there is at least recognition that, “Retailers are recognizing the real importance of the in-store employee in creating a better in-store experience for consumers,” we still think the best investment is in learning how to use technology. No one walks into a store and says, “Oh look, someone with a tablet, let’s buy something!” Technology can and does provide helpful tools but those tools are dead things, they don’t care if anyone buys anything or not. It is only living, breathing human beings who can infuse the place with energy and spirit — a frequency that attracts and assures and makes decisions easy. Learn how to do that and you’ll own your category. The largely avoided truth is that we’ve all encountered spaces and people where there is an undefined magic, the “there’s just something about Mary” phenomenon that creates the experience our customers crave. Some are gifted with this energy, but they are hard to find and they tend to avoid retail because of the fear… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

The old ECR research stated that implementation of technology is 20 percent technology and 80 percent people. This data shows that employees are receiving little training on any subject. Bringing technology to retail outlets is only a small part of the solution.

In general investment in training is low. With high turnover it does not make sense to train employees for other companies. Determining the ROI on investment in training is difficult. Training is very expensive.

All of the claims are true. However, do they justify a lack of training that leaves a retailer with unqualified employees who may not know how to use technology or how to interact with customers or how to answer product questions?

Retailers have to balance the paradox to be successful.

Ed Rosenbaum
5 years 1 day ago

Disappointing data and information, isn’t it? Yet for years we stand on our soapboxes and preach the need for training. Yet all we hear after all this is yes, we need to train better. Then the powers that be move on to something else until training becomes an issue again. And they wonder why nothing happens.

Kevin Leifer
5 years 1 day ago

With the realization that each retailer needs to set itself apart from competition through customer engagement and brand identification, we would all like to think training is a much more frequent topic of conversation (and focus for action).

This article serves as a great means for reigniting the need for greatly increased training hours per associate, focusing on product and interaction.

Frank Beurskens
5 years 1 day ago

I’m curious if today’s technology-oriented consumer and salesperson utilize (demand) more intuitive skills in contrast to sensate. After watching my three-year-old granddaughter use technology, I’m not sure what role training played in her skill development. Good technology design is intuitive. This is a designer/developer’s challenge.

Lee Kent
5 years 1 day ago

I doubt that retail will expand resources around training focused on technology, and I also question if they really need to. Good technology apps should be intuitive and I believe most of them are. The ones that aren’t don’t survive.

Employee training is still necessary in order to acquaint them with their roles and responsibilities as well as infuse the brand into their minds, but the technology—well maybe they need to learn how to ring a cash register correctly. Looking up items, placing online orders for a customer, price checking, not so much. That is, by now, second nature.

For my 2 cents.

Kris Kelvin
5 years 1 day ago

While training is (obviously) a necessary part of tech rollouts, there’s a touch of “blaming the victim” here that I find disturbing: “Our tech would have worked if you’d simply trained your people…those pesky, expensive people.”

Management should be refocusing resources around human capital regardless of tech, not because of it.

James Tenser
5 years 1 day ago

I’ve always been that annoying guy who argues that training without tools is inadequate to ensure success. Well, it’s also true that tools without training lead to suboptimal results.

It’s not that employees need a lot of help to learn how to operate digital devices in the stores. They already know the basics going in—the result of thousands of hours using their personal devices.

The real training imperative centers around practices—how to use these clever devices to deliver the desired customer experiences. That means learning how to listen to shoppers, determine their needs, and then leverage the tools to make a great outcome.

That training need will never diminish, no matter how intuitive the tech interface. It’s just as valuable for seasoned managers as it is for new hires. Tech vendors who can wrap some practice-based training resources around their solutions may gain an edge when negotiating with retailers.

Ralph Jacobson
5 years 1 day ago

Tech vendors need to ensure new applications and devices are intuitive for every new staff member so training follow-through challenges can be minimized. That’s the issue. The more busy stores rely on intensive training to drive implementation of new tech, the more obstacles to effective deployment of the new technologies.

Vahe Katros
Vahe Katros
5 years 23 hours ago

Interesting…not sure about how to answer this question since it’s such a moving target—but here are some thoughts:

a. Are retailers willing to pay upfront for the design and developer talent needed to reduce technology learning curves to near zero?
b. What is the state of the market for content management tools and video creation tools? Who has gained traction in the retail? Why?
c. Are retailers to looking to hire talent and grow the organization needed to create new educational content?
d. How will the help desk and support organization need to change to support a zero-training model? Is that possible, how much can be offloaded to streaming videos?
e. Is there a future where YouTube-like channels exist enabling retailers to subscribe to syndicated content from third parties like “The Retail Doctors” or the retailers’ brands (and service content)? 
f. How will sales associates and others who produce popular and useful training videos be encouraged and rewarded? How about expert customers who produce how-to videos?

Gordon Arnold
5 years 17 hours ago
As retailers, we must never forget that you get what you pay for and never anything more. Cutting service, support and documentation is an all too familiar price concession in the eternal search for more for less. This is followed by side stepping comprehensive and easy to use for something “streamlined” yet fully functional. And when the final rollout happens, we blame the IT company for any and all shortcomings. This sort of mess is followed by the price savings found in IT product made to do something it never did or maybe never could do. This is also known as the land of vaporware. Add to this the trending need to lower hiring standards to fill minimum wage positions that directly interface with customers and the problems are turned into living nightmares. The solution is usually new companies with less bureaucracy and leadership with solutions in mind taking over the market(s). Management and supervision cost money. Customer service, house keeping, down stocking and checkout make money. Anything else must exist to enhance the capabilities… Read more »
"I’ve always been that annoying guy who argues that training without tools is inadequate to ensure success. Well, it’s also true that tools without training lead to suboptimal results."

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