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Bricks vs Clicks: Our Top 5 Learning Takeaways from RetailEXPO 2019

Retail is changing fast but core customer service skills are not. That was one of the key ‘takeaways’—pun intended—from RetailEXPO 2019. Account Director, Sophie Ryde, reveals her top retail learning insights from the two-day event in London.

Retail Learning Tip #1: Technology Has Disrupted Everyone’s Expectations but Engagement Is Still Vital

Our experience of retail has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with internet purchases, new ways of making payments, AI-based online product recommendations that show related merchandise, and the creation of real communities around brands—largely through social media. But what hasn’t changed much is every customer’s desire to have a great shopping experience.

And to have a great experience, technology coupled with a great user experience online and in-store can help, but so too can human interactions. Retail staff still need to be welcoming, knowledgeable and genuinely helpful to their customers. After all, today’s consumers have high expectations, are savvier, and want brands to understand (and react to) their lifestyle and preferences.

These vital customer-facing skills and expertise should not only come from the brand at top level, but from experience and data. This would be based on what happens:

  • on the shop floor in real customer situations
  • and virtually with the customer service teams.

An open retail store

Staff in store and on the phone need to have a strong knowledge of the products they sell. But there’s more to it than that. They also need to know how customers want to be told about those products and how they want to be advised on what would be best for them.

L&D teams in retail organizations need to adapt to these evolving learning needs too, and be able to provide their staff with more than just fact-based content. A simple piece of basic, stand-alone eLearning simply won’t fulfill learner expectations anymore. To succeed, learning content needs to adapt to the learners and the environment they’re in.

People working in busy, fast-paced retail environments need bite-sized learning, ideally supported by some form of social learning. There’s still a strong need for learners to experience feelings of community and togetherness, especially when the cohorts are global or disparate populations. Whether that’s done face to face or through technology, people still want to feel connected to each other and the brand they work for. And customers want to feel as if everyone they’re talking to believes in what they do and lives and breathes the brand values that they come to experience.

Retail Learning Tip #2: Sustainable Retailers and Learning Technologies

Brands are under a lot of pressure when it comes to sustainability—from regulations but more and more from their customers who want to know that the products they buy are fair for the environment and people who produce them.

Greenwashing—which is the practice of making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology, or company practice—is becoming a bigger issue for retail brands. The consensus from RetailEXPO was that retail organizations don’t do enough or don’t respond quickly enough to environmental challenges, and need to find the right way to communicate with their employees and customers about what they’re doing about sustainability.

Sustainability can also be applied in the way you train your staff. Digitization has made the world more connected than ever. Retailers can avoid extensive—and expensive—travel to learning environments and use digital learning technology instead. There are a variety of solutions (360 videos, AR, VR, virtual classrooms and forums, for example) which can connect people together without having to travel and physically meet with others or discover environments they can’t yet access.

A panel discussion on sustainability in the retail sector from RetailEXPO 2019

Retail Learning Tip #3: Be Locally Relevant but Globally Aware

This is what KFC and Yum! Brands say they focus on. They have global models to design their stores but are always focused on market needs and cultural differences. This doesn’t stop at how to fit a POS (Point of Sale) and the storefront display but how teams communicate with each other, how projects are run between the franchisor and franchisees, and how efficient processes can be followed no matter what language you speak to achieve the same goal.

The advice is simple: avoid a cookie cutter approach to retail. It doesn’t work and is not what people want these days. Your branding, marketing, products… they all need to resonate and speak to the local customer base, whether that’s retail or hospitality.

The same can be said for learning that needs to reach a global retail audience. Training content needs to take into account local nuances with languages and slang. To succeed in engaging the learner, we need to ensure the content is locally relevant and that specific product or operational process details are accurate. Having a well managed and robust solution can offer cost-effective solutions for content translation and localization where culture and visual imagery will also be taken into consideration.

A session from KFC and Yum! Brands on localization in the retail sector at RetailEXPO 2019

Retail Learning Tip #4: Stop Pushing Content and Enable People to Learn from Each Other

“Start with the user—understand your people, explore and materialize. More is not always more.” This was the advice of Anthony Williams, Global Learning Design Manager at Costa Coffee. Anthony suggests a process of learning elimination: focusing on the things that are going to be useful and not teaching everyone everything. He sees L&D’s role as building the bridge between the people that you have and the performance that you want to see.

For learning to be effective, technology should be an enabler, not the solution. Anthony recalled how Costa changed the skills of its L&D team in order to suit the skills required in retail and hospitality—with a goal of “new skills for a new world”. His team’s focus is now on capturing resources and then using these to inspire conversation and engagement with the team.

A great example is the flat white learning campaign, #flatwhitefriday. Did you know that it takes 100 hours to perfect a flat white. It’s perhaps the hardest coffee-related drink to make, hence why it deserves some attention.

Rather than creating a lengthy course, featuring everything you could possibly need to know about creating the perfect flat white, Costa decided to use a simpler approach. They created a video of one employee named Amy, giving her top tips on making the best flat white.

During RetailEXPO 2019, Costa spoke about using subject matter expertise and user-generated content for their retail learning on how to make the perfect flat white coffee

People then submitted their videos to add to the top tips. This reliance on user-generated content ensured that everyone was able to benefit from the expertise that was already in-house. They have had over 2,000 posts in the three months since launching.

The goal here is to use the expertise of your employee base and let them teach each other. This may require some curation but L&D teams need to be confident that they have the right people who will do the right things. A good safeguard could be to agree on a set of rules and guidelines before letting people join the learning community and then let it manage itself, with a little control from L&D when needed. It’s important, though, to give kudos to your employees that are getting really involved. Reward these colleagues for great content when it’s submitted. This type of internal recognition is extremely motivational and helps continue the sharing of content going forward.

Retail Learning Tip #5: The High Street Is Not Dead; We Just Need to Rethink It

As expected, there’s still a lot of talk about bricks vs clicks: the ‘fight’ between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. Reassuringly, a lot of the talks we attended dismissed the idea that the traditional high street store is dead. It’s not—it’s just evolving.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, suggested that we need to reimagine high streets rather than save what we had in the past. Growth areas, she says, seem to be around creating spaces for leisure and the emergence of experiences: that is, creating a space for entertainment and dining experiences on the high street.

That’s why retail is such an exciting sector to work in—it has been and always will be a rapidly evolving environment. But for this next wave of retail change to happen we will need to drive a major culture change, one that sees a significant skills shift for retail staff. And this is where having a retail learning strategy aligned to the business objectives before the transformation takes place will enable the whole organization to be prepared to embrace this evolution.

For more LEO Learning expertise on a variety of topics—from blended learning and learning strategies, to proven learning trends—check out our resources page.