Retail’s recovery relies on a resilient frontline

If retail businesses are going to survive and thrive in retail’s “new normal”, empowerment and career development of frontline staff must be at the heart of their recovery roadmap, according to the latest report ‘Building a resilient workforce for the retail revival’ from Axonify, the modern learning and communication solution for frontline retail associates.

With online retailers winning a record share of shopper spending in June, up 33.9% year-on-year – a new 12-year high since March 2008, and consumer confidence remaining at near record lows, customer experience (CX) in-store will be the critical differentiator in the recovery of Britain’s bricks-and-mortar retail industry.

Behind the masks, the hand sanitiser and the socially distanced queues, frontline staff remain central to delivering excellent CX.  Almost two thirds (64%) of UK consumers say highly skilled store staff that deliver better service and in-depth product information make them more likely to visit a retail store or site and three quarters (75%) of consumers say good customer service encourages them to spend more.

But despite covid-19 highlighting the critical role staff play in ensuring business as usual for the UK’s £394 billion retail industry, research of 1,000 frontline staff by Axonify, reveals that despite 81% of associates saying training made them feel more engaged at work, nearly one third (33%) don’t receive any formal workplace training.  This increases to 36% for part-time employees, which has implications for the retail industry with half of all employees working part-time.

More than three-quarters (76%) of employees feel the opportunity to complete additional training designed to develop their skills for the future would make an employer (present or prospective) more appealing to them. Future-focused development is especially valued by those starting out their career, with nine out of ten Millennials (89%) saying they are interested in future-focused training compared to 81% of Gen Xers and only 59% of Baby Boomers.

At a time when UK retailers paid just 14% of the £2.5bn quarterly rent bill, the investment into staff education was a challenge, acknowledged Liam O’Meara, VP of Europe at Axonify:

“There’s a lot of talk about the “new normal” in retail but, despite the obvious shifts, store associates will continue as they always have, to work hard giving customers the products and experiences they want. What must change is the way the store associate is trained, motivated and equipped to succeed, because serving the customer has become more challenging than ever,”

Outlined in the report are five practical steps to help ready retail associates for the short and long-term needs of the consumer:

  1. Keep your entire frontline on the same page, no matter how fast things change.  This means sending consistent information directly to your entire frontline in real-time, on their work or personal devices, not via managers or bulletin boards
  2. Give them the tools to stay safe. Build compliance into reboarding and onboarding as stores reopen to get your entire frontline workforce up to speed
  3. Make sure the information sticks. Rather than trying to get employees to remember everything in one go, focus on the top 2-3 things they need to know to keep safe and productive on the job
  4. Get them ready to perform in any role. Cross-training allows the workforce to build the right skills, so any role can be filled quickly as operational demands and customer needs shift
  5. Support them on the devices they love. By delivering communications and training on the devices associates already carry in their pockets, staff can be kept informed and engaged right in the flow of work via BYOD

To find out more about how retailers and business leaders can build a resilient frontline workforce, download the full report: ‘Building a resilient workforce for the retail revival’

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