Reinventing Retail Learning To The New Normal

Reinventing Retail Learning To The New Normal

I feel as though we are seeing a very important evolution inside our Retail industry. Both on the consumer side and the employee side of the business. The Washington Post published an interesting article on January 12th, 2016 titled, “Shoppers Are Choosing Experiences Over Stuff, And That’s Bad News For Retailers“. Some of the things they are opting for over and above “stuff” are:

• Travel: record high sales in the airline industry
• Food: +8% (beating the +2% estimates)
• Media: Video streaming services and games

Additionally, “vacations and dining out are each projected to see a 27% increase in consumer spending between 2015 and 2019”, according to a study conducted by market research firm Mintel. That is the strongest growth of any spending category.

Retailers are reinventing themselves, re-branding themselves to suit the new customer expectations. Even the luxury market, which is largely about experience, is seeing a shift in consumer satisfaction and desire for updated experience. Millennials are changing the face of fashion and branding as you can see in the Business Insider article, Millennials are rejecting a strategy Coach, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Michael Kors have relied on for years”.

Training vs. Self-Directed Learning

What does this ultimately mean to retail organizations and the future of retail? This is a huge disruption to business as we know it. Customer expectations are changing, consumer behavior is changing and evolving, What this means is that we have to update the training, both content and delivery, available to our team members. Employee expect more too. Their behaviors and expectations have changed and they need newness, freshness, and a learning experience specific to them.

We have relied, for as many years as I have been working in the retail industry, on the same general training process and modules. We teach employees what we want them and expect them to know, regardless of what they already know. We have been disengaging employees during the training process by force feeding them what we believe areas of development. Things as shallow and pedantic as “The Five Steps of Customer Service” (or six or seven depending on the company) are still promoted as training. All that results in is a disconnect with the majority of shoppers now. The inability to deliver a sincere, genuine, and memorable experience.

One of my big initiatives this year is to develop a training program that is based on “Self-Directed Learning”.

My goal is to create a organizational development program that is effective and tailored to each individual in the company. I was able to establish some fundamental pillars of a functional self-directed learning program over the last couple of years that you can read about in my article Fundamentals for Building an Effective Training Program. I haven’t perfected this program yet but my plan is to deliver an engaging menu of learning options to the team so that they can leverage their selling strengths without being bored and they have options to develop areas that will support their professional growth, engage them, challenge them, and instill a level of passion and self-development that results in highly-productive, loyal, knowledgeable, and committed employees.

According to Pluralsight: Based on empirical research, the 70:20:10 framework argues that improving workplace performance happens through three kinds of activity:
70% is experiential learning – learning and developing through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practices.
20% is social learning – learning and developing with and through others.
10% is formal learning – learning and developing through structured modules, courses and programs.

And according to Jane Hart, a leader on workplace learning, identifies six ways in which modern learners prefer to learn, in contrast to traditional training practices, summarized here:

Autonomy: Modern learners choose what they want to learn as well as when and how they want to learn it.
Small and short: Modern learners tend to make use of short, bite-sized pieces of content – both instructional and informational (that perhaps take 15-20 minutes to consume) – as well as have brief interactions with others.
Continuous: For modern learners, learning is a continuous process, a constant drip-feed
On demand: When faced with a learning or performance problem, modern learners look for quick and easy solutions by searching themselves for an answer or ask their Personal Learning Network to recommend a resource.
Social: Modern learners are highly social. They learn with, or alongside, others and from others in terms of resources, ideas, experiences and thinking that have been shared.
Anywhere, anytime, on any device: Learning is happening all the time, whether consciously or unconsciously, intentional or accidental. It may happen face to face, on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

To engage the newer generations of workers we not only need to allow them to learn what they wish to learn but to choose the method in which they learn it. That is the true definition of self-directed learning. I believe this to be the key to ensuring that we have team members supporting the delivery of a great customer experience. When they feel supported and engaged, they will be productive and enthusiastic brand advocates (aka: human-trust magnets). An added benefit of this type of training is, I believe,  this to support one of the biggest development opportunities for retail organizations which is employee advocacy training, including prepared links and content to share useful content with their networks to drive trust and consumer engagement. Allowing the employees to truly represent the brand to the public through – which is part and parcel to customer experience today.

Some interesting statistics from Jay Baer on employee advocacy [just to show how important it is]:

• 92% of Americans trust recommendations from family and friends but only 47% of Americans trust advertising from companies.
• Sharing information about your brand, 41% of people believe that employees are more trustworthy than a company’s CEO or PR department
• Your employees have 10 times more social connections than your brand does

There is no better time than now to re-evaluate your training programs and tools to ensure that they resonate with your workforce and are able to produce results that are aligned with the customers expectation of their experience in our stores.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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