The web-based training and education systems that some vendors as well as the National Retail Federation are developing are hitting a market ripe for such technology, industry analysts say. “Retail is probably the most spread out industry there is,” says Jeff Roster, senior retail analyst for Gartner DataQuest. “Retail stores have to be close to customers, not close to management, and that creates challenges in how to keep store personnel up to date.”
Furthermore, web-based education may be a way to address retail’s high turnover--not only in educating new employees efficiently but also in reducing turnover. “This is a way for stores to differentiate themselves to employees and potential employees,” says Kathy Mance, vice president of the NRF Foundation, which is spearheading the NRF/Sun effort. “This gives the sales associates the feeling that the company is investing in them, helping them develop skills and move to a new level.”
Sun Microsystems and the NRF are rolling out a web-based training program for store personnel that will include education of corporate procedures and policies--everything from how to run the cash register and greet customers to how to deal with conflict between employees--to, eventually, training on product features and benefits from manufacturers. Several other companies have rolled out similar products recently, including Docent Inc., which announced a deal with U.K. retailers B&Q; to use the Docent system to take training to its employees, and KnowYourStuff, which has deals with several retailers and product manufacturers.
Web-based education can also benefit product manufacturers, who want retail sales personnel to know the features and benefits of their but can’t possibly get to all sales people in all stores. KnowYourStuff was founded by Woody Nash, who owned New England Overshoe Co. He knew first hand the benefits of training yet the difficulties of getting to all retail sites. “We see a spike in sales after the we did training at each store,” he says. “But we couldn’t be at all places at all times. The web makes a lot of sense in that regard.”