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There is simply no denying the fact that properly trained retail staff deliver better results for the retailer. Unless your staff is better trained than the competition, armed with more product knowledge and strategies to solve customer problems, your retail operation will be competing primarily on price. That's not a good position for a retail specialty store to be in, because it's next to impossible to compete on price with the big box retailers and national chains given their huge buying power and economies of scale.

Unfortunately, I too often see retailers investing in advertising and marketing campaigns designed to drive people into their stores only to encounter staff members who don't have the right training. If the people on your retail sales floor can't speak knowledgeably about your products and help customers feel confident they are making a smart purchasing choice, they will leave without buying. And that's an outcome no retailer can afford for long.

Here are the four areas of training that are essential for your staff:

Product knowledge

Your staff must know what they are selling in order to be effective salespeople. They should know the features and benefits of all the products sold in your store. Mix this knowledge with enthusiasm about the product and a desire to help people and you will have a winning combination. Are you lacking information on the products you sell? Maybe you have been lax in this area. Call up your product vendors and reps and get them to provide the information you need. Next, start reviewing this information with your staff and make it mandatory that every one learns it.

Read: ROI Gains Through Employee Training

How to sell effectively

Here are a few issues that should be covered in your weekly training sessions (notice, I said weekly):

-       What are the best qualifying questions to ask a customer?

-       How do you determine customer needs?

-       How do you overcome customer objections?

-       What are the best ways to ask for the sale?

-       How do you use scarcity and urgency to close the sale?

-       How do you create add-on sales by recommending products that complement other items?

Role-playing with staff is an excellent way to give them the answers to these questions in a real-world context.

In-Store Procedures

In-store procedures comprises a range of often mundane tasks, but your staff members need to be trained on them in order to keep your retail operation running smoothly. Here are some of the most important issues:

-       Receiving and storing merchandise in your store

-       Pricing merchandise

-       Safely and effectively stocking and merchandising the sales floor

-       Handling special orders

-       Identifying merchandise for markdowns

-       Procedures for opening and closing the store.

-       Processing cash, credit card and cheque purchases

-       Handling cash and sales receipts

-       Store security procedures (including the in-store alarm)

Read: Investing in Talent — Skills Training and Development

Customer Service

Customers turn their backs on businesses that don't deliver value. There's no way around it: good customer service adds value. There are no shortcuts. Customers demand value for money or they are out the door.

Properly trained employees convert more shoppers into buyers, promote repeat business and establish your store as an expert in your niche. So start your seasonal staff off right and keep your permanent staff engaged with regular training in the four areas I have shared with you.

Many retailers don't see themselves as trainers and educators in their business, but that's the role you must take on. And if you feel you can't do it on your own, hire a  professional. Proper employee training will pay for itself, and employees that are well-trained will be an ongoing asset to your business.

Barbara Crowhurst is an internationally recognized retail consultant and business coach and CEO of Toronto-based Retailmakeover.ca and Retailmakeover Web Services.

More columns by Barbara Crowhurst

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