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Retail Boomtown

Retail training is the new boomtownFrom an instructional point of view, retail is one of the last frontiers for performance technology, which, when you think about it, makes it kind of exciting.

Consider how most retail training works now. As a new retail associate, you spend the morning of your first day walking around the store behind another team member who gives you the lay of the land. This person is your trainer. During the afternoon, you get a binder in the backroom or at the cash wrap and are asked to review it. The binder is years out of date and so boring that you’d fall asleep if your fear of failure didn’t keep you awake. Day two is even more exciting because now you get to shadow your trainer, explaining that you’re new to any customer who tries to interact with you. You might feel a little bit smaller each time you have to say it. Then, as soon as you are minimally functional, you’re on your own. That is not how the training experience should go.

We’re about to enter a golden era of retail training. Driven by competition from online retailers, brick-and-mortar shops are refreshing the customer experience, integrating technology, providing consultative services, and focusing much more on their living brand. They simply cannot accomplish these objectives using the industry’s traditional approach to training. Ten years ago, AllenComm had 5 retail clients. Today, we have more than 25. Retailers, retail brands, and direct sales organizations are recognizing the strategic value of learning and performance in meeting this new set of challenges.

Much of the innovation centers around three unique aspects of the retail environment:

  • Associate Needs
  • Product Knowledge
  • Customer Service

Breaking down the challenges as well as some of our most successful design approaches shows that if retail is the frontier, it’s also a boomtown.

Associate Needs

Challenges Successful Design Approaches
  • Even more transient
  • Not formally educated (or very differently educated)
  • Job, not career focused
  • Unlikely brand ambassadors
  • Younger or older workers
  • Mario-style mini-games, tiered in competency levels, for quick-start success and more advanced topics
  • Animated shorts (a la Schoolhouse Rock) to bring to life business basics or a-day-in-the-life vignettes
  • Meme generators for new employees to share enthusiasm with their social networks


Product Knowledge

Challenges Successful Design Approaches
  • Multiple and complex products
  • Dynamic, rapidly changing products
  • Products requiring expertise and customer education
  • Brand-specfic consulting and recommendations
  • Mobile apps to run a sim version of your business and allow you to compete with your peers
  • (No-shrink) product demos that require virtual care and attention
  • YouTube-style demos on how to use, apply, install, or troubleshoot various products
  • Mobile flash cards to practice key features and functions
  • Incentives to motivate associates and give them first-hand experience with the product or brand

Customer Service

Challenges Successful Design Approaches
  • Cultural challenges when associates may not be part of the demographic to which they are selling
  • In-person customer service must provide additional or complementary value (vs. online purchases)
  • Comprehensive rather than transactional support
  • Personalized experience
  • Floor manager simulations where you prioritize customer needs with other challenges
  • Whiteboard storytelling to teach associates how to share a brand story using simple metaphors and data points
  • Action planners with progressive targets and daily customer challenges
  • Dashboard metrics on lifetime customer value added for practice scenarios


We’re excited to be at the forefront of building the new boom town and shaping the future of retail. What do you think the most urgent problem is in retail today?