If you’ve been inside a retail store in the last week or two, you are quite aware of what’s going on. It’s happening…holiday shopping is happening!
The holidays invade retail stores like a joyous and heartfelt plague. The sound system in the store no longer blasts hits from Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift—those songs have been replaced with Michael Bublé , Nat King Cole, and Mariah Carey. Jack-o’-lanterns sit side-by-side with elves, turkeys and jolly ole St. Nick.
A new holiday season is upon us, which means new products, new promotions, new expenses and new employees. Each year, the holiday season delivers a new class of seasonal help. God bless them, and God bless us all!
I remember a seasonal sales job I took many many (many!) years ago. Let me be honest, I remember a seasonal job I took about two decades ago. The interview was brief, the hiring process was equally brief, and the training period was “remarkably” brief. Essentially, I was trained on a handful of things—how to clock in, where things were in the store and how to ring up sales. That was really it. I wasn’t trained at all on the brands or products in the store. I couldn’t compare one brand to the next and I didn’t know the features or benefits—I just knew that TVs were in aisle 5 and laptops were in aisle 8.
As this holiday season approaches, I wonder if seasonal training has improved at all in the last 10 – 15 years. While this light, accelerated training may represent a “good enough” strategy for some retailers, it doesn’t seem to benefit brands with products on the shelves. The challenge becomes clear, how do brands ensure that new retail employees are trained at scale, quickly and in a way that provides value?
I wanted to know the answer to these questions, so a couple of days ago while shopping in a “newly-spirited” retail store, I asked for an application. I wasn’t really looking for a job, but I needed a reason to engage with a retail supervisor on the subject.
“How well are trained are your seasonal employees?”, I asked.
She chuckled with a quizzical look on her face. “Well…”
The retail supervisor basically explained that seasonal employees essentially help keep things going. They are there to help keep the store clean, organized and direct shoppers to the places in the store where the products they are searching for can be found.
Me: “Do they know anything about the products being sold in the store?”
Her: “When we interview them, we ask them about the types of products they know about, and generally, we try to assign them to departments that align with their strengths, but that doesn’t always happen.” She replied.
Me: “So essentially, their value to customers is directly connected to what they already know. They aren’t getting a lot of incremental knowledge on brands, products and features right?”
Me: “Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if they were better trained on those things?”
“Look,” she said, starting to become annoyed with me and these random, but oddly obvious questions. I was getting the feeling that she was on to me. That I wasn’t really interested in applying for seasonal work.
Her: “If we had the time, we’d definitely give them as much information as possible, but ultimately we need bodies on the floor.”
Me: “So, if you could train them quickly you’d be ab…”
Her: “I gotta go.”
With a quick, but curt response, she smiled and disappeared into the store, but I had my answers:
If brands and retailers had more time to train seasonal employees, they would.
If they had a training solution that would keep sales associates on the floor and not in the break room, they’d utilize it.
If seasonal employees had more knowledge about the products in their store, they’d be much for helpful to the customers with whom they engage.
Hmmmm. If only there was a solution to their problems. (www.sellpro.net)
I spent about 10 minutes looking for that retail supervisor. I had my mobile phone in my hand, I had opened the SellPro app and was ready to give her a real-time demo. Maybe she was training in the breakroom. Maybe she was hiding from me. I bumped in a sales associate during my search.
I asked, “Do you know where I can find a coffee maker?”, as this was why I was in the store in the first place.
She pointed me in the right direction. I didn’t have the heart to ask her to recommend one for me.
I had caused enough trouble already.