Do you think your store could use more motivated, top performing employees? Do you feel as if your staff could do better at selling and serving customers? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, keep reading.
Today’s post tackles retail staff training and offers best practices on how you can facilitate effective learning to ensure that your staff performs at their best.

2015_AUG_ALL_PRODUCTIVITY - 6 Retail Staff Training Tips to Improve Performance, Sales and Customer Service


The success of your training program doesn’t just rely on your teaching methods, it also hinges on the inherent attitudes and values of your staff. As Bruce Nordstrom puts it, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.”

That’s why it pays to put attitude over aptitude when hiring new people. Yes, it would be nice to have someone who has both, but if you had to choose between attitude vs. aptitude, always go with the former. It’ll be much easier to train a positive person who’s open to learning and who shares your values than it is to modify someone’s default attitude and disposition.

As you might have guessed, Nordstrom is one company that hires people based on attitude rather than experience. In the book The Nordstrom Way authors Robert Spector & Patrick McCarthy talk about how the department store puts the attitude over aptitude concept to practice. “The company hires nice people and teaches them to sell rather than trying to retrain salespeople taught other methods. Nordstrom believes the best people are have been trained by their parents while growing up.”

Another notable example is JetBlue. According to the Disney Institute, the airline believes that you can train for skill, but not for attitude, and it “has embedded this conviction in its front-line hiring process.”

To find individuals who have a natural service inclination, JetBlue conducts group interviews and observes how candidates interact with one another. This allows interviewees to assess applicants’ people and communications skills in a way that can’t be done during a one-on-one interview.

So the next time you’re on the lookout for new employees, be sure to look at their nature and disposition first, before evaluating their knowledge and skills. Implement ways to assess their natural inclinations through personality quizzes or, like JetBlue, by conducting group interviews.


Once you have the right people on board, it’s time to ensure that their training goes well. Naturally, you want to train people in a way that ensures they pick up and retain the most amount of information.

One way to accomplish this is by implementing modular training, which means offering short and flexible training segments instead of long and winding sessions.

“Because of scheduling and the cost of including staff not scheduled when the training occurs, it may be helpful to have training that is modular and can fit into 1-hour segments, as opposed to having training that requires long periods of time,” says Hank Boyer, President & CEO Boyer Management Group.

“Modular training enables staff to be brought in prior to store opening, or stay after store closing, if it cannot be accommodated any other way,” he adds.


The best way to make learning “stick” is through the use of varied training materials and methods. As Maxim Fishman, Dean of Vend U (Vend’s training initiative) says, “One format may not be enough to answer the needs of diverse learners.”

To ensure that your employees can internalize what’s being taught, utilize two or more learning methods to train them. For example, you can verbally teach your staff about company policies, and reinforce the information through handouts or videos so employees can refresh their memories when they need to do.

Or, if you’re training your staff on how to use software such as your POS or inventory system, it’s best to demonstrate the programs in person, and then refer them to how-to videos that they can come back to.


Role playing can be quite effective, especially when it comes to sales training. As the team at Graff Retail notes, role playing “can be your #1 key ingredient to help bring your sales training to life and it will be the very thing that makes your staff finally just ‘get it!’”

According to Graff Retail, there are several ways to eliminate role-playing’s awkward factor and make it fun. Here are some of their suggestions:

Role Playing doesn’t have to be formal. Start by observing your staff out on the sales floor. In between customers, spend some time re-enacting sales conversations that didn’t net out in a sale. Keep it casual.

Role Playing doesn’t have to be in front of the entire sales team. Warm your staff up to the idea by using Role Playing in your one-on-one coaching sessions. Just you and your staff member; no judgement.

Role Play the good and the bad. You’ll be so surprised how quickly your staff grasps a selling concept when you act out “what not to do!” Not only will it cause uproarious laughter which relaxes the team, it will clearly reveal where things went sideways in the sale process.

Once your staff is comfortable with Role Playing, integrate one scenario into every Shift Starter Meeting. This is a great way to kick-off each shift during the day. It immediately gets everyone thinking about sales and it allows Managers to select one selling skill a day to focus on.

During larger staff meetings, allow time to Role Play as a group. Put a bunch of “What Would You Do?” scenarios in a hat and give everyone a chance to get up and act out the perfect sale.


Also pay attention to the rules and guidelines that you train employees on. While these are necessary to keep employees in line and ensure consistency in procedures, there may be some areas in your business that don’t require rigid rules. In some cases, it may actually be more beneficial to empower employees to use their judgment and be creative.

For example, while it’s certainly best to have step-by-step instructions when training people on how to operate store equipment and software, you can probably give employees more freedom when it comes to serving and delighting customers.

Nordstrom is famous for it staff empowerment practices. Take its store returns policies, for instance. According to the retail giant, when it comes to items bought in their stores, their return policy is… to not have one.

“We don’t actually have a return policy for purchases made at Nordstrom stores or at,” they state on their website. “We handle returns on a case-by-case basis with the ultimate objective of satisfying the customer. We stand behind our goods and services and want customers to be satisfied with them. We’ll always do our best to take care of customers—our philosophy is to deal with them fairly and reasonably; we hope they will be fair and reasonable with us as well.”

In other words, Nordstrom leaves each return situation up the employee, and encourages them to use their judgment and focus on satisfying the customer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should chuck your store policies out the window. Some retailers can’t afford not to have a return and refund policies. What you can do however, is look at the different areas of your business and determine which ones need strict rules and which ones don’t, then train your employees accordingly.


Recognize that you don’t have to implement your training program on your own. If teaching isn’t your specialty, see if you can delegate the task to an experienced manager or even an outside professional.

There are plenty of trainers out there who specialize in retail and can create tailored programs for your business.

When it comes to the hardware and software in your business, see if you can get training from your vendors. Most solution providers provide training materials to customers to help them get the most out of the program, and others even have partners and resellers who can train clients on the solution.

Francesca Nicasio Vend

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall.