Why Retail Sales Training Is Unique

Retail sales training is very different than any other form of selling. Here’s how you can train your retail sales team for the better.

Published on 19 August, 2016 | Last modified on 1 November, 2022
retail sales teams need to be trained differently 1

Retail sales is very different from any other type of sales. In order for a retailer to be successful, the training strategies for sales teams should differ greatly. Merriam-Webster defines retailing as the business of selling things directly to customers for their own use. Essentially, the customers  arrive at their own will looking for a product that they already have a purpose for. Other types of selling require more footwork and outreach than retail. Nevertheless, just because a customer walks into a retail location doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed sale, or even a guaranteed positive experience.

Retail sales staff have to be trained differently in their sales techniques. Your brand’s image and its consistency rely on this. Retail sales associates have to approach a customer with consideration of not only their buying intentions, but with the capacity of their product knowledge. A modern shopper has surely investigated multiple competitors and products – they won’t enjoy having the wool pulled over their eyes if you over exaggerate the potential of an item’s quality or features.

So much of the retail experience depends on customer service and enticing the shopper into looking at multiple product offerings, whereas other types of selling are more aggressive. While there are many differences between retail sales from other types, here are a few that you should keep at the forefront of your training strategies:

Selling the Location Experience

Retail sales associates face the unique challenge of having to sell within their store environment. Whether this is a retail, wholesale or mixed location, there is no hiding or shying away from customers. Any customer that has walked into a retail location–even if they’re not intending to make a purchase–has walked in out of some seed of interest. How your sales people choose to feed, nurture and cultivate that seed all depends on the depth of their training.

Any retail sales associate reading this may counter with the question:  Well, what about the people who are “just looking”? This is a common answer from many shoppers when asked if there’s anything they can be helped with, or if they’re on the hunt for something specific and don’t want to be talked into looking at other product options. Surely we are all guilty of this almost knee jerk response. This is a situation that other salespeople rarely have to deal with. They’re looking for the customer – seeking them out through cold emails, referrals, networking and campaigns. In the case of retail sales, the customer has walked themselves into their store or boutique.

Customer-facing sales employees have to know how to appeal to customers without over- or underwhelming them. Selling in a brick and mortar store also requires sales associates to uphold their brand consistency. For example, situations that may arise are:

  • An item that is sold online isn’t sold in the store, and a customer feels misled about your brand’s offering.
  • A particular item is out-of-stock, causing customer demand to plummet at point of purchase.
  • The phone line is tied up with a very angry customer, leaving customers unattended on the sales floor.
  • A shopper has a “can we make an excuse just this once” request for a return item and has held up the checkout line.

If your retail sales team is not trained in how to uphold brand consistency at each location, then their response to scenarios may not be based on the input of your brand, but rather on their desire to defuse the situation quickly. Retail training and operations teams should consistently train sales so each customer receives the same brand experience no matter what location.

Hiring For Attitude

You can train for a lot of things, but attitude isn’t one of them. Bruce Nordstrom, Former Chairman of the iconic brand said it best, ‘‘We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.’’ This directly applies to a customer’s experience, but a retail salesperson’s poor attitude can spread like a head cold in the schoolyard – creating agitated employees and a higher rate of employee turnover. ICC Decision Services noted that the average turnover of frontline employees average 100-115 percent annually. Speaking plainly, that means the entire in-store retail team is on the job for less than a year. Imagine that employee turnover in any other industry outside of retail, you probably can’t even think of any instance where that’s even conceivable.

‘‘We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.’’

This is why in an effort to improve customer satisfaction, retailers are hiring more and more associates that have the right attitude. Anything from a nonverbal cue to a snippy tone can deter customers from completing the purchasing process. Even a negative experience can call for a cathartic story that retells their dissatisfaction either online or verbally to other consumers. Sadly, negative experiences are usually far more memorable than the positive ones.

Assess what kind of attitude your brand has, and hire employees who hold those traits no matter their experience level. These are the types of employees you need to hire to infuse into your brand advocacy. Retail sales associates who are courteous and helpful will be far more likely to develop habits that suit to the needs of your brand’s responsibilities. This creates a positive experience for both customer and employee, making it more likely to stick with (not stick it to) your retail brand.

Training For Skill

If you can’t train for attitude, you can train for skill. However, modern retail customers usually enter the sales floor already self-educated on your product offerings. Essentially all product knowledge can be found online, including reviews and side-by-side competitor comparisons. What results is a community of well-informed shoppers who are already sold on a very specific item before entering the store door. This is a unique problem to retailers. Other types of sales are given the opportunity to explain the benefits of their service or solution to a customer that needs to listen to better understand their offering. However, in retail, a more informed consumer is not a better consumer.

This has become a growing issue for retailers, because their retail sales teams’ soft skills have atrophied, points out RetailDoc. A salesperson who acts as a product specialist adds complexity to the purchasing process and can actually push today’s customers away. While it is always encouraged to be knowledgeable, in retail, salespersons should be trained to become product generalists not product masters. Train your sales team to help shoppers relax to the point where they feel open to possibilities outside of their previous research. When you establish trust, customers be more likely to be open to your sales pitch.


Sales and Interaction Time Go Hand In Hand

Training retail salespeople can get sticky. In other sales environments, new sales hires take the time to onboard to learn processes, to better understand competitors or to transition former clients from their previous companies into their sales pipeline. When it comes to retail onboarding, time away from the sales floor means time away from selling. If it’s a luxury retail brand, it can also mean a loss of potential commission. Training for general product knowledge and brand image can be met by new salespeople who are chomping at the bit to start selling before they start learning.

However, ThinkingKap Learning Solutions reported that 92 percent of retail employees are more loyal when the store invests in their training. Proper retail sales training results in retaining more employees who are happier with and better at their jobs. You can bypass the hasty attitude towards training by offering quick bursts of employee sales training rather than long and formal sessions. You could take a blended approach by having salespeople take home your branded retail training solutions and have them watch short, under 5-minute training videos in between shadowing experienced sales associates on the floor. This will minimize their time away from selling, but maximize their interaction with your brand. Have you seen more loyal retail salespeople as a result of training them for brand consistency?

[Free Webinar] Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Training9-29-2016-8-49-12-am

Millions of dollars are being invested in training each year. But how are organizations measuring the effectiveness of their training, especially soft skills training like sales? At Richardson, Eileen Krantz, Vice President of Client Analytics, has discovered that some clients believe that there is just an inherent value in providing quality sales training, others are more concerned with just aligning training with the sales strategy, and some develop a comprehensive measurement strategy to isolate the financial return on their investment.

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