How to improve retention in retail through upskilling
September 6, 2023
The retail industry has one of the highest churn rates of any business sector. The consequences are damaging to businesses, staff, and customers alike. Yet, those organizations that keep their people derive a distinct competitive advantage. The key to improving retention in retail lies in better onboarding, clear opportunities for career development and a training strategy that focuses on upskilling and personalized learning.
Retail faces a real retention challenge
All businesses have faced the fallout from COVID-19 and the global economic turbulence, but that alone can’t explain the decrease in retention in retail. Automation and the move away from bricks and mortar to online have cut staff numbers. Retail is also regarded as casual employment or as a stepping stone to careers in other business sectors.
Nevertheless, the scale of the current challenge for retail is exceptional. The average annual turnover rate in UK retail approaches 60%. That means for every 2 employees 1 will leave within a year – and frequently in a matter of months – of being hired. Then there’s the cost to the business of replacing staff which is in the order of £3,000 per person.
Reputations are damaged
The costs of low retention are reputational too. Customer experience suffers as overworked staff struggle to provide the standard of service consumers expect. Staff morale and teamwork decline when employees are unable to form professional relationships or rely on support. Brand loyalty takes a hit as the business gains a reputation for inadequate service and customers look elsewhere.
A downward spiral occurs where high turnover and the resulting negative performance make a business unattractive to potential recruits and leads to an exodus of experienced staff who take valuable knowledge with them.
Successful onboarding boosts retention
People leaving retail frequently cite poor, or a complete lack of, onboarding as the primary reason for their quitting. Onboarding can provide the ideal opportunity to connect to an organization and to share the core values of the business.
But it needs to go beyond admin and form filling functions to focus on fast-tracking new hires to competence. This can be achieved through personalized training, team building and mentoring, and clear communication. Onboarding should map out the opportunities for personal advancement with clear paths to career development.
Successful onboarding promotes inclusion and leads to better motivated and more engaged employees who are more likely to stay.
Training provides vital support
Retail staff struggle with a lack of support in their roles. The pace and pressure of retail work means that training is frequently ad hoc and informal. Retail training is, however, complex and extensive covering product knowledge, sales, soft skills and, in some cases, compliance. Management and leadership training is required for those that want to progress.
In a fast-paced working environment like retail, learning has to keep up and be agile. E-learning and mobile learning provide the means to customize and personalize training based on experience and role. It allows you to update information and training materials and support staff on the go – whether that’s in a shop, office, warehouse or at a desk.
Offer the chance to upskill
Surveys repeatedly show that employees want to develop and grow. If they don’t see the opportunity to progress within their current retail role, they’ll look for it elsewhere. Experienced retail staff will have acquired a set of transferable skills that will allow them to find a position in a sector that is both varied and vast.
Businesses hoping to retain staff need to offer regular opportunities to upskill and reskill. Upskilling often means leadership and management training but can also involve a more lateral transition to a different department or specialization in new products or services. Reskilling is vital where the introduction of new automated systems transforms the nature of retail work.
The opportunity to upskill should be widely available as part of clearly defined and mapped career pathways that can be advertised at the onboarding stage.
Retail can be seen as the poor relation of industry sectors. Starting wages are often at the minimum, working conditions may be less than desirable, and the hours long. But pay and conditions aren’t the only reason retail staff regularly quit. Lack of recognition is a key factor too.
Employee recognition schemes that have wide support and are tied to career progression improve morale and incentivize staff to engage and perform. These can be as simple as shout-outs for an individual employee or part of an organized initiative such as a digital badging scheme that recognizes exceptional performance or significant milestones reached and which are automatically included in an employee’s HR records.
Recognition works both ways and employers can improve staff engagement by soliciting feedback, offering forums for staff to express themselves, and encouraging experienced employees to share their knowledge and experience with peers and managers. Having a voice and an opportunity to make it count encourages team building and inclusion.
A host of economic and business factors make it difficult to attract and retain retail staff, but there are ways to turn the tide. Offering opportunities for development and upskilling, creating a culture of well-being and inclusion and personalizing training and support will increase engagement and motivation and make staff more likely to join, stay and perform – giving the business that vital competitive edge.
Learning Pool is helping global retail brands improve retention and keep a competitive edge through better onboarding and upskilling initiatives. Find out how.
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