Can you answer YES to these 5 critical retail performance questions?

COVID-19 has disrupted every business, every industry, every workplace. 

But no one has had quite the same experience as retail over the past five months. Retailers have faced opposing realities. Essential operators, like grocers and hardware stores, broke record sales as consumers shifted spending towards necessities. On the other hand, speciality retailers were forced to shut down or severely limit their operations and are still looking for their next normal.  

Thankfully, we’re seeing early signs of recovery. US retail sales in July were up 1.2% seasonally adjusted from June and 2.7% year-over-year. Now, retailers are planning for what will be a very different (and critical) holiday season. “Door-busting” Black Friday sales and packed parking lots are increasingly unlikely as 67% of shoppers say they will make their holiday purchases online to avoid crowds and exposure. Retailers are looking for ways to spread holiday demand out over a two to three month period to replace the traditional shopping rush.

Frontline associates play a critical role in executing your holiday strategy. In-store shopping. Curbside pickup. Home delivery. Appointment-based selling. No matter the combination of tactics, your associates must execute safely and efficiently to make this holiday season a success. 

But are they ready? Let’s find out! Here are 5 critical questions to ask yourself about your overall preparedness in an environment where the lack of normalcy is the only thing for which you can prepare.

QUESTION #1: Can you get a timely message to every frontline associate in the next 2 hours?

Change is constant right now. And things are only going to move faster as the holidays approach. New products, promotions and policies could overwhelm your associates if you can’t communicate with them in a timely and consistent way. I don’t mean bulletin boards and team huddles, which are slow and inconsistent. Your corporate team leans on digital communication. Why shouldn’t your frontline have their own digital messaging tool? Make it easy to access and simple to review. Don’t bog them down with piles of email or overcrowded social feeds. Use their own smartphones as a connection point. Associates always have them in their pockets anyway, right? 

QUESTION #2: Can a store associate find the answer to a customer’s question in less than 60 seconds?

Efficiency of experience is now a primary differentiator in retail. Consumers want to get in, find what they want, and get out. Your associates need to be ready to answer questions and guide purchasing decisions. This includes experienced associates as well as new hires. Make sure they have access to digital tools (again, on their own smartphones) that allow them to quickly search for and reference information on products and services in the moment of need. Associates may not remember every price, complimentary product, or return policy, but they need to be able to find it immediately when asked. 

QUESTION #3: Can you deploy training on a new safety requirement to every store in less than a week?

Safety is the consumer’s number one priority. However, safety is a topic that only comes up for retail associates during onboarding and maybe annual compliance training. To keep up with changing regulations and company practices, you need the ability to deploy new training at any time and ensure associates will actually complete it. Microlearning is a proven way to support ongoing training and compliance requirements. Brief, focused content can be built quickly and completed during the few free minutes retail and distribution workers have during their shifts (and potentially on their own smartphones, again). Then, reinforcement and coaching will make sure your associates remember the right things so they make the right decisions on the job. 

QUESTION #4: Can you identify the strengths and weaknesses of every associate?

To adapt your business model, you must also adapt your associates’ roles. For example, some retailers have shifted store associates into hybrid roles that include contact center and fulfillment responsibilities. But who are the right people to move into these positions? Have any associates previously worked in similar roles or completed related training? Tracking your frontline knowledge and skills will allow you to accelerate your reskilling and cross-training programs and get the right people into the right positions ASAP. 

QUESTION #5: Can you determine the value of your retail training program?

Sales are in flux. Budgets are tightening. You can only invest in concepts that actually work. This includes everything, from your marketing plans to your training programs. You can determine how marketing affects the business, but what about training? It’s time to fix the way you measure the impact training has (or does not have) on your business results. This will allow you to become more precise and proactive with your training investment. Sustain and expand the programs that work. Adjust or shut down the ones that don’t. You don’t have room for guesswork anymore. 

If you answered YES to all five questions, you’re ready to execute. If you responded with any NOs, then you have some work to do. Remember, no matter how strong your strategy may appear on paper, it will succeed or fail based on the readiness of your frontline associates. 

If we can help you prepare in any way, let us know. To explore these ideas in more detail, register for our upcoming Retail TouchPoints webinar, From Surviving To Thriving: How To Prepare Your Frontline For Anything This Holiday Season on Wednesday, September 23 at 2pm EST. 


Benchmark your retail training practices with the most innovative and well-regarded brands in the world at AxoniCom LIVE—the only conference focused on the frontline workforce. This free, two-day, immersive online event will feature renowned speakers, networking opportunities and practical ideas to power your frontline performance. Join us Monday, September 28 and Tuesday, September 29 for a one-of-a-kind digital experience: AxoniCom LIVE! 

Until then, be safe. Be well. And be kind to the frontline. 

JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

Looking for more information? We’d love to talk.

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