retail online training

E-learning is an attractive option in retail, especially when you’re making the tough call about whether or not to take people off the floor and put them into a classroom for a training workshop. But depending on what kind of training you’re doing—and what kind of outcomes you need to achieve—the choice isn’t always so cut-and-dried.

So, how do you make the right decision? Let’s start by taking a closer look at some of the benefits of the different delivery mechanisms.

Classroom/Face-to-Face Workshops

One of the most obvious benefits of the traditional instructor-led training (ILT) experience is the opportunity to interact in person with the facilitator and fellow participants.

Physically being together in the same room allows for:

  • The facilitator to “read” the group and individual cues and respond to them in real time
  • Flexible and adaptive personalization of the material, which means the training and learning can go deeper into specific situations or issues and quickly move past lower priority/less relevant topics
  • Realistic, one-on-one practice in a “safe space” with immediate feedback, both of which elevate the experience and the learning process

When interpersonal interactions are important to the learning experience and participants need to pick up new behaviors—not just knowledge or information—ILT offers benefits that are hard to replicate in an online-only format.

Does this mean you have to pull your entire management cadre out of the stores for a three-day (or we’ve even heard stories of weeklong!) training workshop? Absolutely not. But consider what you’re trying to accomplish—and how that will affect the business going forward—before you make a decision to nix the classroom altogether.

Online Training/E-Learning Delivery

Of course, convenience is a big advantage with e-learning. Online training methods can provide retailers with an efficient solution that can be delivered anywhere at any time. No need to take people out of the store for dedicated time in a training workshop.

When it’s done right, online learning can allow for:

  • Short training “bursts” (e.g., 3-5 minutes or less), which can be effective for reinforcing and facilitating in-store application of new concepts and behaviors
  • The delivery of training via the desktop or a device, making it portable, easily accessible, and easy to fit into the daily routine
  • Consistent, retail-specific content delivered across audiences

This last point is particularly important for retailers that care about building culture—which should be every retailer. To build culture and deliver on your customer experience promise, all audiences, from the district and regional managers to the store leaders to the sales associates, need to be getting the same messages about behaviors and expectations.

Keep in mind, though, that while online learning can provide a solid foundation of skills and strategies, if you’re looking for sustainable learning and behavior change, you’ll need to incorporate ongoing coaching, reinforcement, and feedback to ensure people are applying what they’ve learned.

The Best of All Worlds

Clearly, both options offer important benefits, and for most retailers, an integrated strategy makes more sense than an all-or-nothing approach. Here are two key questions to consider as you evaluate potential solutions:

  1. What are we trying to accomplish with the training?

Building knowledge is different than changing behavior. For knowledge building, e-learning alone might be sufficient. But it’s not enough when you need long-term behavior change, especially when you’re dealing with interpersonal leadership skills like communicating, managing the floor, resolving conflicts, and having tough performance conversations.

For interpersonal skills, a face-to-face environment and ongoing reinforcement are essential for allowing people to try on new behaviors and get nuanced feedback in the moment—and for making sure those new behaviors stick once your store managers are back in the whirlwind of the retail environment. That said, it doesn’t have to be a classroom-only solution. Technology and online learning “bursts” can be a huge value-add, making it easy to facilitate in-store reinforcement, practice, and feedback.

  1. Will my people buy into it?

Recently, a retail learning leader shared a story that’s all-too-familiar to many in retail: A training company came in to present their program to her management group, and even though the content itself was OK, “as soon as they started showing the hokey corporate videos,” she told us, “everyone just zoned out.”

Retail is unique. Whether you’re looking at online or classroom-based training, it needs to represent the specific situations, challenges, and realities your team deals with on a day-to-day basis.

Because ultimately, no matter how you invest your learning and development dollars, if people don’t buy into the training, don’t feel that it’s relevant to their world, or don’t actually apply it back on the job, that money was wasted.





About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.