Product innovator Tim Drewitt shares insight into how retail businesses can improve productivity and customer satisfaction by modernising their approach to learning and development.

Retail is rapidly changing and so must learning too. This year’s Towards Maturity In Focus Report shows that the retail sector is increasing its investment in learning technologies and building up its internal L&D capability, but could benefit from using a broader range of technology-driven learning. Many retailers remain wedded to formal learning and have yet to explore the benefits of social and informal learning. As a result, retailers are struggling to improve productivity and customer satisfaction through learning and development, both of which are key drivers for success in the retail industry.

Here are 10 hints and tips for addressing these key points:

Designing for learning impact

Compared to other sectors, the typical retail learning and development team continues to invest in its own content development capability, but research suggests they are not seeing the same level of return and impact on the bottom line as other industries, nor the same level of management support on the ground.

  1. With studies showing that 50% of the impact from any piece of training is a result of what happens after the training, learning designers should look at how they can build in activities and resources to support the transfer of learning.
  2. Learning designers need to work more closely with line and store managers when it comes to developing both course content and – even more importantly – ways to support managers in creating the optimum environment for ensuring successful learning transfer. As well as easy ways to support learners, this support might also include specific training modules for store managers which complement the learning which their teams are also receiving.
  3. Options for integrating gamification into learning solutions should be investigated by learning designers, with a particular focus on how the scoring or badging can be linked closely to (or mimic) the intended business results.

Developing retail-friendly learning resources

The data suggests that retail sector employees find it more difficult to access suitable learning technologies and to find more conducive spaces to learn than staff in other sectors. There also appears a reluctance to learn outside of the workplace.

  1. Learning developers in retail should definitely explore using more micro-learning resources that are better suited to the type of working and learning patterns in this sector. Micro-learning also encourages the greater use of more creative learning approaches, such as mini games and quizzes or short explainer videos, which improve engagement levels when compared to the traditional e-learning course. Micro-learning can also be designed to meet both the need for basic instruction and on-the-job performance support.
  2. Mobile learning is a good delivery channel for retail. It’s not uncommon to see tablets and phablets being used on the shop-floor, so learning developers should look to leverage these to deliver short bursts of micro-learning. Although staff may be  reluctant to take learning home, mobile learning is already proving to be an attractive option for studying at a time and place to suit the learner, especially if the use of micro-learning means study times are shorter. Learning managers should explore ways to exploit any BYOD or company-provided smart devices for learning.

Engaging with management and the business

When compared to other sectors, retail line managers appear less engaged with learning. Given the critical role that line managers play in translating learning into results, this is an important area to address. Conversely, learning managers appear less connected to the data that drives the business.

  1. Learning managers need to work more closely with managers in the business to enlist their support and to involve them in the full learning cycle from determining training needs to finding easy ways for them to quantify the benefits for themselves. Line managers also need to receive their own regular communications about learning.
  2. Learning designers need to include more digital learning options for store and business managers to expose them personally to newer ways of learning.
  3. Learning managers need to work more closely with their peers in other areas such as finance, to gain a deeper understanding of the organisation’s KPIs and where learning can be more appropriately targeted.

Embracing social and informal learning

The data shows that the retail sector has put a lot of attention and energy into developing its capabilities to deliver traditional learning modules, but at the expense of other learning approaches, most likely as a result of a lack of the required skills and knowledge amongst learning teams.

  1. Social and informal learning is starting to be recognised as a valuable alternative to formal learning. Learning managers need to investigate how offering platforms and resources to support these new approaches can provide a more “consumer grade” learning experience for an audience that increasingly chooses social and informal avenues in their non-working lives.
  2. Learning teams need to up-skill themselves to allow them to more confidently embrace these methods and should look to recruit in the future to fill new roles requiring a higher degree of learning facilitation and on-the-job performance support skills.

You can download the full report 'Embracing Change in Retail Businesses' at

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