# 1 Retailer is Betting on Staff Training to Lift In-Store Experience and Sales
It’s the season when students of all ages head back to the classroom. But education today isn’t always limited by subject matter or by the calendar. Since February 2016, supervisors and managers of the world’s leading retailer have been heading to the classrooms of Walmart Academy in droves – over 150,000 so far – as part of one of the nation’s largest in-house training programs. An additional 380,000 entry-level employees have passed through the company’s Pathways Foundation training. This mandatory program, which uses computer modules, guarantees a pay increase of $1 per hour to each staffer who completes it within 90 days.
What’s behind Walmart’s investment – $2.7 billion so far – in staff training? Besides the positive publicity and image enhancement, is this top player setting a retail trend that other bricks-and-mortars will pick up on? A retail trend that might provide a much-needed edge against onliners? (Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/business/walmart-academy-employee-training.html?_r=0)
Developing Skills to Meet the Shopper’s Needs
Clearly there’s a need to upgrade the basic skills of the retail workforce. The non-profit National Skills Coalition, in a study funded by Walmart, found that 60 percent of retail workers lacked reading proficiency and 70 percent had difficulty with numbers. The Pathways Foundation program aims to correct these primary deficiencies. Walmart Academy takes on a higher challenge in a classroom setting: how to improve the customer experience by fielding a knowledgable and motivated in-store management with well-developed people skills.
“They’re helping transform our shopping experience,” said Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc., of the Academy's graduates, who attend a commencement ceremony in cap and gown on completion of their studies. Many aspire to executive roles – although future promotions are not guaranteed. (Read more:
The retailing giant has concerns beyond the experience shoppers get in their own stores. Walmart has teamed with the National Retail Federation to help develop standards for a certification in customer relations skills that eventually would be available to all retail workers.
Retail Trend to Watch: Is Training the Best Defense Against Online Competition?
Among the top drivers of Walmart’s recent focus on training is doubtlessly the relentless rise of online retailers, especially Amazon. Now the third largest US retailer and expected to be number one in apparel sales by year end, Amazon is on the march. The best basic defense for bricks and mortars, according to current thinking, is to offer an in-store shopping experience providing physical access to merchandise plus personal interaction with knowledgeable store associates – an experience that can’t be duplicated online.
A Wharton Business School Study Says Retail Training Delivers Measurable Results
A team at the Wharton Business School, headed by Marshall L. Fisher, professor of operations, information and decisions, in collaboration with a leading consultancy, studied data from 300,000 sales associates in 330 stores of a major retailer over a three-year period. In comparing the associates’ sales before and after training, they found that their sales volume improved by a minimum of 23 percent per hour post- training, with highly motivated associates, who volunteered for training, improving by 46 percent per hour. Read about the study and view a video with Professor Fisher at:
Can a Well-Trained Sales Staff Reduce Showrooming?
Showrooming – shoppers browsing a physical store and then purchasing online – is the bane of many retailers. Professor Fisher maintains that behavior is often due to a poorly trained staff. “I think customers often times don’t intend to showroom, but end up shopping online because they get better information online than they’re getting in the store,” he said.
The key takeaway from the Wharton study? Fisher advises: “It pays to invest in your people. It pays to have the store adequately staffed, to hire talented people, pay them well and train them well.”
Improved compensation and training – that might be a retail trend to watch.