From ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’: why retail needs investment in ‘team knowledge’ to ride out the turbulence

Article by Martyn Jones | 8th February 2020

Retail is juggling a lot of things right now.

Yes, progress is being made in bringing our high streets back to good health—emerging store concepts, and finding margin through creating clever supply chain and production efficiencies seems a no brainer and many have committed a lot of time to these.

When it comes to HR operations though, there seems to be a collective reluctance in confronting a critical issue that’s either not spotted, or even ignored—team knowledge gaps.

Consumers have caught up…

With endless data in the palms of their hands, customers are finding smarter ways of making the right purchases with the least amount of risk. In doing so, they’re walking into stores already the experts on product and pricing to becoming more knowledgeable than stores realise.

As Retail Next’s industry pundit and guest blogger Shelley E. Kohan puts it….

“The hidden truth is often customers know more about the brand, products and policies than store associates themselves.”

Not ideal for a retail industry already losing out to shifting consumer habits.

‘Click-and-Collect’ & ‘BOPIS’ proves consumers are ‘time poor’ & ‘data rich’

Let’s park the finger-wagging for a moment to look at the reasons behind the surge in customer knowledge that’s leaving store colleagues behind.

Click and Collect (a.k.a BOPIS)

‘Click-and-collect services (also known as ‘buy-online-pay-in-store’ in some regions) grew by 50% year-on-year between 2018 and 2019—so it’s no surprise that adoption of click-and-collect is set to grow from 44% in 2016 to a staggering 90% by 2024.


Similarly, there’s ‘research online, purchase offline’ where—as the name suggests—customers first qualify purchases and minimise risk by researching online before committing to an in-store purchase.

So why’s this important?

It’s important because it suggests that modern consumers are so time-poor, they want to get it right and are picking up the kids, or going to the gym while *also* collecting store purchases with confidence thanks to an informed, ‘data-rich’ approach in the decision-making process.

Meanwhile, in-store…

Meanwhile, retailers fight other market battles in their line of sight—perhaps neglecting front-line concerns like labour turnover and workforce knowledge gaps.

Referencing a study by recruitment firm, RHR, Retail Gazette report that the analysis…

“…highlights the struggle retailers face to attract and retain talent on the shop floor, especially with its reputation as having one of the highest employee turnover rates of all industries”

The take-home from all this—if not that there’s nowhere to hide any more from expert customer scrutiny—is that workforce knowledge gaps should be seen as a commercial issue that creates measurable risk…

…and retailers need to address that fast.

From the store or area management perspective the issue here seems to be in-store colleagues lacking the passion to stay, learn and develop their knowledge.Turnover is too high

From the workforce perspective the problem is in perceived neglect, lack of progression, and a general underinvestment in team empowerment.

So it all comes back to the labour turnover.

The RHR study Retail Gazette reference clearly shows this with 42% of respondents saying they have been in their job for less than a year.

In the same RG article, RHR director Peter Burgess points out that…

“People stay with companies that demonstrate value and care for their employees. Therefore, employers must start to see the value in nurturing their own talent, particularly when times are uncertain.”

If the recruitment door is revolving that fast, how are retailers expected to level up workforce knowledge in a way that sticks and adds value to store operations long term?

Upgrade the Workforce, and you Upgrade the Customer Experience…

If thorough, ‘off-the-job’ training is seen as an over-investment given that store colleagues won’t stay long term, then retailers need to find another way. And there *are* other ways.

It’s not a crime not know the answer to a question. The crime is in leaving customers unattended who have likely had to spend time finding someone to assist—only to have them disappear to look for someone else.

The goal shouldn’t be to put store colleagues through academy style training before setting them loose into the store floor. Instead, teams need a method of collective learning and instant info-sharing on-the-go that turns colleagues into instantly accessed data points—an approach that will create both job enrichment (to lower turnover) and customer empowerment to increase loyalty and brand perception.

By connecting individual voices you create ‘networked knowledge‘—and a collective greater than the sum of its parts—able to deliver the right information to customers instantly when needed. Long term survival prospects for many high street regulars may depend partly on how much weight they’re giving to HR and workforce related themes as commercial issues with commercial consequences.

Only time will tell.

[Cover photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash]

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