Why Retail Training Matters During the Holidays

Since 1983, I’ve spent at least part if not all of my waking hours on the day after Thanksgiving inside retail stores. While I spent the vast majority of those years working in the stores, the last few years have been spent studying customers in the retail buying experience. In the lead up to the holiday weekend, we made several posts and suggestions encouraging retailers to focus time on training their employees to be able to deliver on the promises of their advertising. It does no good to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on advertising to drive customers into your store only to have the employees fail to deliver on the promise.

We do lots of surveys talking to customers about what they like and do not like about retail. Not surprisingly, customers consistently ranked the employee as the biggest frustration when shopping during the holidays. “My shopping experience is directly related to how well trained the employee is,” said one customer. “Nothing frustrates me more than getting the employee who does not know about the advertisements, the products, or how to process a busy day like the holidays. It’s not like they did not know when Thanksgiving or Christmas was!” Well said.Cookware Salesperson

Last Friday, I went to test this theory in a couple of different stores. My in-laws were in town visiting and wanted to upgrade their cell phones and I asked if I could go to the store for them as a way to test the experience. They had brought an ad with them and showed me what they wanted so all I needed to do was to go to the store and process the transaction. (Do a favor for my in-laws and do some work at the same time, brilliant, I know.)

When I arrived I was greeted by a cashier whose job was to keep me in the store and not let me leave before sales was available. She chatted with me about my holiday, asked if I had family visiting, did I get enough turkey, in other words made great conversation to distract me from the fact that I was standing and waiting for a long period of time. (By the way, this is one skill that’s hard to train this is more something you need to hire.) When it was my turn with the salesman, I explained what I wanted to do based on the deal in the advertisement. The salesman immediately explained in detail the offering without referring to any notes or going to get the ad. He further suggested that we process both upgrades at the same time to save me time on my shopping. While waiting for activation, I complimented him on how well he was ready and prepared for today and asked him about the training he got in advance. He explained that they had a special after-hours meeting and the store brought in pizza and walked everybody through all the offers and even practiced the ability to upgrade more than one phone line at the same time. He further went on to share that the last store he worked at never did anything to help them be ready and he often dreaded Black Friday because of the difficulty in working with the customers. Stop 1 – Winner!

On my next stop at a different store (notice I’m keeping all stores nameless to be fair) I went in to pick up another gift that was on my in-laws list. Once again I had an ad (so to make sure I got the right item), but had to talk to three different people before someone was able to help. The first person told me they were part-time and did not really know anything about the sale. The second person told me what they thought the offer was and when I told them about the ad they asked me where I got it. The third person told me, yes they had seen the ad, but they did not know where the item was stacked. They knew it had been moved for the sale, though.

The irony of these two stories is that I spent more actual time in the store on the first shopping experience for the cell phones than I did on the second shopping experience for the simple toy. But I walked away from the first experience thinking “this is how retail should be done. I would come back here again.” And I walked away from the second experience thinking “this is how retail is and I don’t want to shop here again” The moral of the story? Very simple. In one store,the employees were well trained and the other store they were not. In one store the customer experience was exceptional and the other store it was not. The common link? TRAINING.

So the question is how much time and preparation have you spent with your employees getting them ready to deliver on your holiday store experience? For many customers, this is the first time they will experience your store and the fact it’s the holiday does not matter. The better prepared your employees – the better the experience a customer will have and the more likely they are to return again and again.

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marketing.

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