If you own or manage a growing retail business, you probably wear many hats.

You may be the person responsible for ordering inventory, hiring new employees, balancing the books, and processing payroll. So adding retail staff training to that mix may seem like overkill. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Properly trained staff leads to better sales results.

To get you on the right path, here is a comprehensive guide, complete with ideas on how to train and get the most out of your retail staff.

Why Retail Staff Training is Important

Retail staff training is essential for even the smallest retail business. You want your staff to be up-to-date on all of the products you sell as well as best practices that improve sales and decrease common retail security issues like inventory theft. Here are some examples of how retail staff training can improve overall business performance.

  • Increases sales. The most important reason to invest in retail staff training is so that your employees are well-informed on new products, sales techniques, and how to best deal with different personality types. Well-trained employees translate into happy customers, and happy customers are more likely to purchase items from your store on a regular basis.


  • Positions you as an expert in your field. An effective retail training program and the resulting employee confidence positions you as a professional and well-informed business. For example, let’s say you sell craft beer in your local quickserve. With proper retail staff training, your employees are now able to not only ring up transactions and restock shelves but also advise customers on pairings and the different flavor profiles of each beer. With available expertise such as this, you’re not just selling beer, you’re selling an experience, making customers more likely to frequent your business when they are in the mood for a few local brews.


SEE ALSO: How to Increase Sales in Retail — The Ultimate Guide

  • Ensures consistent messaging. Excellent retail staff training ensures your employees are familiar with your company’s marketing strategy and convey a consistent brand message in-person and across online channels. The last thing you want is for your employees to be sending mixed messages to your customers that can hurt brand perception. This includes information on upcoming promotions and events but can also include details about the business mission and values.


  • Improves employee morale. When you invest in staff training, it’s a sign to employees that you care about their growth and development. This goes a long way towards improving and maintaining employee morale. Even though it’s your small business, most employees want to feel like they are a part of something bigger and are contributing towards a common goal. Find small ways to turn a part-time retail job into a life experience. The advantages of being a small business are that you can be more hands on with employees. Make sure your staff understands how they contribute to the overall success of your growing business.


  • Reduces employee turnover. Improved morale helps with employee retention and reduces the costs associated with searching for, hiring, and training new staff. It turns out that lack of training is one one the top two reasons that employees quit their job and in a small retail operation, every employee counts. So if you invest in retail staff training for no other reason, it will still be worth your while.


  • Increases safety. Whether you own a small boutique or the local bookstore, it is your responsibility as a small business owner to ensure the safety of your customers and employees. Teaching staff how to lift heavy racks and inventory without injuring themselves and demonstrating how to set up displays so that employees and customers won’t trip, can reduce your liability and help to create a safer store environment. Other potential hazards include blocked exit routes, unsafe storage and work areas and even human waste. At the very least you should ensure that you cover some of the most general Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards with employees.


How to Develop a Retail Staff Training Plan

Putting together an effective training plan doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult. To get the most bang for your buck (and time) consider the following best practices and retail staff training ideas:

  • Break the staff training up into modules. Breaking up your staff training into easy-to-absorb retail training modules makes it less overwhelming for your employees and allows them to learn at their pace. Some employees will grasp everything the first time it’s mentioned, and others will benefit from reading and reviewing aspects of your business on their own. It also helps to identify your employees learning style. Chat with staff to find out what experience they have and adapt your training accordingly.


  • Mix up your training methods. Adding to our point above, not all of your employees will be able to learn in the same manner. Some learn best by hands-on learning, while others retain more when they read information. Mixing up your retail staff training methods not only helps keep sessions interesting, but also helps to make sure that everyone in the group can absorb the information easily.


  • Make it clear when best practices are flexible and when there is no wiggle room. Allowing employees to have a measure of autonomy when it comes to solving customer issues and complaints can go a long way towards boosting your customer service level, as well as encouraging employee morale. However, some rules should never be bent, even for a good reason. A good example of a flexible policy can be the store’s return policy. For instance, some retailers choose to handle returns on a case-by-case basis and allow employees to decide when to accept or reject a return without manager approval. On the other hand, a rule that you might choose never to bend is a no return policy after 90 days. Just make sure that these rules are written down, consistent, and your employees can reference them easily.


  • Remember that retail staff training is a continuous process. It’s also important to remember that training isn’t just something you do when you hire a new employee. Products, procedures, and inventory will all change. For instance, you might adopt a new POS system that requires minimal staff training. Periodic sales, safety and policy training also help to reinforce what your employees learned during their initial training and will contribute to ensuring that all of your workers are provided with the same information.

employee ringing up transaction - retail staff training ideas

Assessing and Adapting to Employee Learning Styles

As mentioned above, not every employee learns in the same way or at the same speed. When you have a small business, it’s likely that some learning styles will be more heavily represented than others. That’s why it’s important to assess your employees’ learning styles before designing or outsourcing your retail staff training program.

According to e-Learning industry, the three leading types of learners are aural learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners. Aural learners retain the most information when they listen to the material. Visual learners, as the name implies, learn best when they view or read information. While kinesthetic learners learn best by engaging their senses and by doing, rather than talking about, an action. For example, you might give employees an opportunity to practice lifting boxes correctly during a safety class rather than simply explaining the correct procedure.

Staff training methods run the gamut from traditional classroom learning to role-play to on-the-floor training. You can even augment your in-person training with computer modules that your employees can access at a time that is most convenient for them.

Behavior-Based Retail Staff Training

One increasingly popular training philosophy is behavior-based learning. This type of staff training is best used for helping employees get rid of bad habits or for disciplinary actions. This method, also sometimes called the ABC method, focuses on antecedents, behaviors, and consequences. Antecedents refer to things that cause an employee to act in a particular manner. These can be people, places, things or even ideas. For instance, your employee may have seen another employee doing the same thing or he may have had a negative experience, such as being rebuffed harshly by a customer.

Behaviors in this context are visible actions, not thoughts or ideas. Consequences are the rewards or punishments of the behavior. Establishing incentives or adverse implications for an employee action works best when an employee is aware of what the business expects from them, but still, chooses to act in a manner contrary to what is desired. Coaching employees works best when, after looking at the antecedents, you realize that the employee doesn’t know what to do or how to accomplish a particular task.

customer paying for item - retail staff training ideas

Managing Performance

In every retail organization big or small, some employees are stronger (and weaker) in some areas than others. To make sure that all of your employees live up to their potential, it’s important to spend time identifying individuals who are struggling in certain areas and formulating a training regimen to help them excel.

Identifying the Strong and Weak Members of Your Team
Your strong employees are not just your top sellers — although they could be. They are the ones with good communication habits and soft skills, as well as those who are engaged in your business and look for opportunities to improve and offer suggestions. Depending on your management style, good employees could be team players or staff that is self-reliant and doesn’t require a lot of handholding. Whatever your definition of a ‘good employee’ you also want to make sure they are willing to be accountable for their behavior.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not ideal to have a team of superstars. According to Entrepreneur, too many top-tier employees can result in too many different (and potentially conflicting) styles and too many leaders competing for followers. So if you find yourself fretting that not all of your employees are rock stars, that’s ok.

Top performers, stand out in any retail organization. Not only do they exceed sales goals, but they also take pride in their work and have a track record of getting the job done. You can quickly identify high performers or high potential employees through the use of a good point of sale system. Some sales reports to reference when determining which of your employees are excelling and which could use a little more training include employee transaction reports or shift reporting. A quality point of sale system should allow you to quickly run reports that indicate sales by hour, as well as by individual employee.

SEE ALSO: 4 Ways POS Software Employee Reporting Helps Your Business

How to Get the Best Out of Your Staff
Getting the most from your staff is a matter of letting them know what you expect from them, giving them the tools with which to excel, and helping them to be comfortable with both your products and your customers. This involves helping your staff improve their communication skills as well as their ability to determine a customer’s personality type and react accordingly quickly. Providing the necessary retail staff training will help you accomplish this.

The DISC model is a good one to use for your retail sales staff training. It divides people into four distinct personality types — D, I, S, and C. The “D” people are dominant, results-oriented individuals. “I” people are enthusiastic and motivated by incentives and recognition. “S” people are calm and steady, they value relationships and family above all else. And lastly, “C” people are detail-oriented and conscientious. Knowing what motivates each member of your staff can help you give them the incentives, encouragement, and the information they need to succeed.

How to be Tactful When Disciplining Employees
Sometimes, despite your best retail staff training and motivation efforts, you’ll have an employee who needs to be disciplined. It might be that this employee is not following procedures. Or, on a more serious note, they might be endangering other employees or customers and/or being disrespectful or disruptive to those in your store.

It’s important to separate your emotions from the situation. Understandably, you’ll be upset when someone threatens the company you’ve built from the ground up, but being angry will usually only further alienate your employees.

To be tactful and fair (as well as stay within legal guidelines), consider the following when disciplining an employee:

  • Treat the employee as a responsible adult. The vast majority of adults are responsible and will act in an expected way if the problem is brought to their attention. Explaining the issue calmly and offering additional training, if necessary, is usually enough to correct a behavioral problem.


  • Minimize threatening language. Written warnings, threats of termination and other similar actions only leave an employee feeling threatened, scared of being fired, and unmotivated. While there are valid reasons for such actions, such as an employee stealing inventory or money, this is rarely the best option for a first-time, minor offense.


  • Look for motivation. Better than written warnings and the discussion of possible termination, is looking to see what in the employee’s personality or work environment might be causing the behavior. For instance, an employee may be afraid of being rejected, so he doesn’t ask the customer for the sale, thus causing his sales numbers to be below the expected level. So instead of disciplining first and listening later, take some time to speak with your employee one on one. There might be a simple explanation for their behavior. It might not excuse the situation, but it could provide you with a simple fix.

Your sales staff is the lifeline of your retail business. Even the best inventory and advertising won’t be effective if you don’t have knowledgeable, motivated, and personable employees. Make sure that your staff is helping your bottom line (rather than hindering it) by investing the time and if necessary, the money, in retail staff training. Have additional staff training recommendations? Let us know by commenting below!

Yamarie Grullon

Yamarie Grullon has years of experience creating helpful & engaging content for small business owners. As Director of Content Strategy at ShopKeep, a leading iPad Point of Sale System, Yamarie provides merchants with practical advice on all things related to business or point of sale.