Blockbuster, HMV, Jessops, Clinton Cards, American Apparel: Just five big names amongst the scores of retailers who went bust in the UK or the US last year as tough times took their toll and increasingly cost-conscious shoppers changed their buying habits. While the January sales may provide a welcome boost in the first weeks of the new year, sales trainers in the retail sector are acutely aware of the challenges that eLearning in retail is likely to face in 2013.
How can eLearning in retail help sales growth in an economy thats flat-lining?
Ask retail managers to pinpoint the key weak spots they'd really like to see the training department address and they'll almost inevitably point to lack of product knowledge within the sales team. Staff working on the shop floor, or online, inevitably know less about products because so many products are becoming increasingly complex.
Whether its the apps that come with the latest smart phone or tablet, the ethical fairtrade policies in fashion departments like M&S, safety guidelines for home and garden products or the advice that must accompany new drugs or cosmetics sales for compliance purposes, today's products are becoming increasingly complex, and the average salesperson is struggling to keep up.
The top 5 challenges retail managers most want eLearning to address
As training managers in the retail sector limber up for the trading year ahead, we thought wed trade a few ideas of our own. When we ask managers in retail to think about the five big challenges theyd really like training experts to address right now, heres what they tell us:
5. Keeping product campaigns fresh and effective.
Product range has contracted over the recession but most retail managers say they are actually promoting less product with more campaigns. With old standards like BOGOF's and 241s looking somewhat tired to many consumers these days, retailers want staff to be up to speed on faster moving promotions that may last just a few weeks or even days.
4. Converting in-store browsers into transacting customers.
Footfall is down and, with no significant spike anticipated in consumer spending anytime soon, retail managers need sales people with the know-how that engages customers AND the selling tactics that converts them.
3. Keeping product promotions aligned to customer needs.
Course realignment has been the retail marketers mantra in recent years, but while most now say that they are supporting the right products with the right promotions, no one expects things to stay the same for long. Developing high velocity training support programmes that get staff up to speed on new products and sales initiatives is critical to success.
2. Product campaigns are getting shorter.
Retail training programmes that would have supported promotions lasting an entire season just a few months ago now need to support multiple micro promotions that last just a few weeks or days. In food and grocery the number of flash promotions lasting between 1 and 3 days has increased fivefold. L&D departments need to find ways of creating more support materials for more campaigns at less cost.
1. Keeping store managers and staff in the loop.
This remains the biggest dilemma for the larger retailers. In a volatile trading environment even small changes commissioned at central office need to be communicated and deployed quickly out to branch, and sales people on the ground need to be able to offer feedback. L&D managers who identify the training programmes and systems that enable this knowledge to pass up and down the management infrastructure best will be the ones appreciated most in 2013.