Why knowledge is power in the battle for retail

Posted on May 04, 2017

Learning strategies

Platforms

Measurement & reinforcement

The retail sector globally faces some major challenges. In a competitive market and in an era of rapid change, what can retailers do to protect and increase their bottom line? And how do they maintain and build on their market share? Customers have never had such a wide choice on how and where to spend their money. They’re calling the shots. So what can retailers do to grab their attention and keep them loyal?

In the UK, especially, the retail sector faces uncertain times – retail sales recently posted their biggest quarterly fall in seven years. The lower value of the pound, rising prices and the Brexit fallout are among the pressures.

Customer experience matters

The extent and pace of change in the way people do their shopping means that businesses have had to change, too. In the mad rush to keep up, some retailers haven’t got their strategy right and have sadly paid the price.  Perhaps the biggest mistake made by some has been to neglect the needs of the two most important constants in this rapidly changing environment: their own staff and their consumers.

In 2017, however, all the research suggests that most businesses have either woken up to this or are starting to. Research published in March by Econsultancy found that globally, retailers recognise that customer experience is the differentiator: it’s what keeps them ahead of their competitors. In Econsultancy’s Digital Trends in Retail report, 54% of the 500 retail respondents sampled named customer experience as their Number One priority for 2017. It was listed in the top three priorities by 89%. 

This Adobe article, Moving Beyond Click and Mortar, points out that while online sales have indeed soared, 94% of all retail sales still happen in stores. What has changed, however, is that customers are doing their research online first, before going to the shop to buy. Most customer journeys therefore start online but end in-store. This journey needs to be a seamless and enjoyable experience. One of the main conclusions in the Adobe report is that digital isn’t closing shop doors; a disconnected customer journey is. The report says that becoming an experience-led business means “not only blending digital and physical channels into a fully connected customer journey, but also building experiences around the customer in ways that put their needs and wants front and centre”.

The most important people in this process are the ‘front line’ shop staff, who must be more like concierges to help deliver the experience that customers want. They’re highly likely to be doing this with the aid of multiple devices and they will 100% be doing it with knowledge.

According to PWC, employee knowledge is one of the ‘six battlegrounds’ that stores need to win. PWC reports that product knowledge is the most important in-store attribute for 59% of shoppers surveyed: “[Retailers] need to provide a convenient, frictionless in-store experience, with the added advantage of knowledgeable sales staff who can explain product offerings, the Number One preference of in-store shoppers, ahead of ambience."

Yet, research by Forrester Consulting found that the majority of customers – 71% ­– feel that store staff aren’t as knowledgeable as they should be. Crucially, today’s savvy shoppers expect store assistants to have the knowledge in their heads or to hand. 

Employees are aware that their training is falling short. A survey by IPSOS Reid (commissioned by Axonify) asked store associates about the training they receive. Their response? 34% said they don’t receive any training at all. Those that do receive training say it’s not enough and ineffective with 57% saying it’s boring and they forget what they’ve learned. Some 76% of store staff said they wanted more training – but training that was right! 70% wanted it to be short and non-disruptive to their working day; 88% asked for it to be fun and engaging; and almost all – 92% - felt it would work best if it was personalised and relevant to them.

“It is important, perhaps more than ever before, for retailers to invest in talent and the training and development of their in-store associates.”
PwC

Reinforcement embeds knowledge

So we’ve established that employees need new skills and constantly updated knowledge to hand. How can they get this personalised and relevant knowledge in a way that’s effective?

Interval reinforcement is a proven scientific technique that maximises knowledge retention. This flexible and updatable knowledge is pushed out to each employee at pre-defined intervals until they ‘get it’ and move on to the next level or topic. It’s daily, bite-sized and ongoing – and the training doesn’t disrupt their day job. The content is engaging for the learners too, so that they want to learn. It might include scenarios – how to deal with a complaint or a return, for example – so they’re getting lots of practice.

Because the knowledge is on demand, employees can access it to respond immediately and efficiently to customers’ questions. Importantly, knowledge boosts confidence. From dealing with an employee who doesn’t have any answers, customers now have a helpful member of staff who is clearly on top of their job: Another happy customer who will spend money in your store and become loyal to your brand.

Continuous learning reinforcement changes behaviour and has a direct impact on business results. 

In this blog we’ve looked at how learning reinforcement can be used to ensure retail staff possess the knowledge to revolutionise customer experience. But it has also achieved startling bottom line results in other areas of the retail sector, including sales and health and safety. Our earlier blog details in more depth the science behind learning reinforcement and real-life success stories.

We’re working with some of the world’s biggest brands to embed knowledge and improve employee performance, so get in touch if you’d like to find out more about learning reinforcement in retail.     

Ask an expert

Charlotte Bryce, Platform Solutions Advisor at Sponge UK

Charlotte's focus is on learning reinforcement, enabling organisations to fuel growth and development through improved employee knowledge. 

As part of Sponge's platform team she specialises in the retail sector. If you're excited about the latest innovations and trends in learning reinforcement get in touch.

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