How Many Hours Should You Invest In Retail Sales Training?

By Bob Phibbs

retail sales training takes timePeople often ask me, “How many hours does it take for retail sales training?”

The easy answer would be as long as it takes. For if your retail team can’t provide an engaging experience and guidance to a shopper beyond what they get online, then there’s no reason to go to your store.

Why is training important for every employee?  Because your brand needs consistency from salesperson to salesperson so each of them can create an exceptional experience that customers are compelled to remark to their friends about.

Untrained employees are the bane of retail as they are left to their own devices. They bring all their bad habits onto the selling floor.

Read My Comprehensive Retail Sales Training Online page that answers all your questions here

Untrained employees have low conversion rates which drive down your overall sales. It takes longer for an untrained employee to sell something than a trained employee because they are inefficient and passive when it comes to driving a sale. 

It takes a lot more than just showing or pointing to a product.

And since those employees aren’t succeeding, they aren’t happy in their jobs. Since selling is nothing more than a transference of feeling, your untrained employees will communicate their unhappiness to your shoppers. And eventually they both leave.

If you’re asking, Since my retail associates quickly leave, why waste money on them? I challenge you.

Many employees leave because they didn’t receive training and they felt like fools when someone asked a question they didn’t know the answer to... or they felt like a fraud when they had to make something up on the spot.

Now before you think you just need more training, be aware there are three aspects of training, and each requires differing amounts of time.

There are 3 types of training in a retail store:

  •      Onboarding Customer Service Training
  •      Product Knowledge Training
  •      Behavioral Training

Let’s take a look at each to get an idea of the time involved…

1. Onboarding Customer Service Training

For a lot of associates, retail is just one step up from working at a McDonald’s. They have this attitude that they’re settling.

But if you look at almost any CEO of a major company, they trace their beginnings back to working at a store. They had to learn about customer service. They had to put somebody else before themselves. And that early training influenced the rest of their lives.

At its most basic, onboarding training needs to convey that when working in your store, the customer comes first.

A thorough onboarding takes about 5-10 hours. Your initial training time will vary based on the complexity of your operations and the role the employee is going to be performing. This really is just a practical baseline teaching about how to open/close a register, how to ring a sale, how to ship, how to stock shelves, how to pick web orders, how they will be using mobile POS on tablets, etc.

The key to onboarding is to teach black and white, no gray. Exceptions can come later, but you only get one chance to say at the outset we do it this way. Don’t confuse it by including except when, or your new hire won’t be able to confidently know what they are supposed to do.

And after all, having employees who confidently know what they are supposed to do is your goal.

2. Product Knowledge Training

Specialty retailers concentrate most all their time on product knowledge training and that’s understandable if you look at where that attitude comes from.

Up until ten years ago, a manufacturer would make a product, sell it to dealers with brick and mortar stores, bring in those dealers who would learn about the product, take that product knowledge back to their stores, and teach their employees about it. Those employees were the only ones who could explain the product features and benefits to customers.

When customers were interested in a product, they had to go to a store to find out more.

Now, the customer already has searched online for a lot of that product knowledge.

While it’s important your crew knows your merchandise, it’s more than likely when your shopper walks into your store, they will know intimate details about the product they are considering.


Because they are focused on one specific item they read or heard about.

It is unreasonable to expect any one salesperson to have that depth of knowledge. And let’s face it, online retailers can do this pretty well already. Check out four of the great features and benefits of this briefcase:

     • 2 side straps on briefcase can be used as belts, tie downs or tourniquets
     • Can be used as a carry-on during airplane travel and fits under most airline seats
     • Extra flap of leather acts as a false bottom to hide your passport, cash, spare keys and more
     • 8 exterior D-rings can be used to tether tripods, slumber bags, blankets, or firewood. 


That would seem pretty compelling...

So why is the shopper who has done all that research even in your brick and mortar store when they could have just bought the product online?

They are looking for someone who can compare and contrast other models or options, challenge the reasons they thought that one product was the best, and be able to upsell them to something they may not even have considered. That hope is what drives brick and mortar retail sales.

In order to have employees who are ready to fulfill that hope, they must be thoroughly trained on your best-selling products.

Product-knowledge training of your top 25 products should take about 10 hours. This would include knowing who this product is for and who it is not, what situations it is good for, competing products in the marketplace, and hands-on trial.

Product training lends itself very well to videos – everything from unboxing videos on YouTube, to manufacturer videos on their website, to videos you make on your iPhone. These training tools help demystify particularly complex products or features.

Your real money in training though is in the third type…

3. Behavioral Retail Sales Training

What’s the difference between product training and behavioral retail sales training?

Say you wanted to make a radish into a rose like you saw at a fancy restaurant. You’d go to YouTube and watch the video to understand exactly where to place the knife, how to carefully taper the edges, etc. Once you viewed it and understood it, you’d be done.

On the other hand, when you want to transform an interaction with a stranger and build rapport so you become their trusted advisor, you have to think of it as if you want to learn to play the piano like Billy Joel.

You’d have someone show you a D major scale, then you’d play that scale. But are you ready to play Piano Man? Of course not. You would have to commit many hours to practice.

That’s because understanding and being able to do are two very different things.

To begin teaching the soft skills of shopper engagement, you have to have a conversation around what most learners believe about any customer service or sales training:     

  • They already know all of this.
  • They already do all of this.
  • Their customers love them.

If they knew it all, you wouldn’t be looking to start behavior-based retail sales training or add to what you’ve already taught. You can say it that way or couch it a bit but don’t mince words. You need to help them see what you see – customers not greeted, passive employees waiting to take orders, high markdowns, etc.

Next, you have to break bad habits. The worst things you can say to a shopper as they enter your store include:

  •      Hi, how are you today?
  •      Can I help you find something?
  •      Looking for anything particular?


Because they can all be answered with No!

You don’t ever want to ask a question that gets a no if you are serious about building trust first.

So tell them not to ask those questions. They’ll say they understand. But getting an employee to not do that isn’t just a matter of telling them.

Because they’ll do it again.

Then you’ll tell them not to do that.

They’ll do it again.

Eventually you might give up, shrug your shoulders and say, I can’t change them.

At that point, you’ve pretty much given up competing with online retailers.

Understanding isn’t the problem with training the soft skills of engagement. It all makes perfect sense. There’s nothing in anyone’s sales process – even mine – that’s astounding like, The moon is really made of Fig Newtons and you think, Wow, I had no idea.

Retail sales training, like a movie or a good book, has a structure that is understandable and repeatable.

The challenge is getting them to do what they understand. It’s hard to change a habit.

Try this...

For 3 days, set your goal to get onto your bike from the other side or hold your coffee using your opposite hand.

You easily understand it, but until you consciously do this over and over again, your autonomic response will be to do what you always have done.

It’s the same with retail sales training of the soft skills. Understanding is only part of the process.

The learner must be able to practice in bite-size moments that build up to a complete selling presentation.

There is no set and forget retail sales training though I’ve seen a few claim that. You must have someone coach them throughout the process.

Indulge me with a quick story…

I was sharing a cab with a buddy in Los Angeles. When we got in, he made sure to tell me to watch it when I got out on my side facing the traffic. “OK,” I said. As I was getting out, I opened my door into traffic a bit too far and he scolded me.

Later he told me what he had done…

He had opened his driver-side door without any thought. Another car came along and ripped the door right off his rental car. He felt lucky to be alive.

I had understood what he told me initially, but muscle memory took over when I left the taxi – it wasn’t important enough for to me to remember.

But it was for him because he had experienced leverage to change; he could have been maimed or worse.

So too with any owner, manager, or CEO looking to change –you have to get enough leverage on yourself to change. Otherwise, you too will just understand what should be done but do nothing.

You must inspect what you expect. And that is where the necessary time computation gets fuzzy - as you’re working with individuals, not robots.

I recommend a ratio of two to three times as much follow-up time to instruction time to allow for questions and answers, role-playing, and quizzing.

And while we’re talking about time…

How will you deliver your behavioral training?

A three-hour session is too much information to expect people to focus on unless you use a master trainer or speaker. And while that is a great way to kick-off a training program, your learners can only absorb about three items they can remember when they get back on the salesfloor.

Without giving them a step-by-step process to use what they learned, old habits will return.

Experiencing hours of training does not equal learning. Your learners need a series of bite-size learning wins to accumulate enough knowledge to be able to craft an exceptional customer experience every time.

See also, Is SalesRX Online Retail Sales Training Right For My Stores?

In Sum

People inquiring about my online training program ask, “How long will it take to get through the program?”

That’s the wrong attitude.

Hours do not equal learning.

A retailer’s first line of defense is to have employees who are always armed to take on the highly-knowledgeable customer and sell value over price.

Otherwise, instead of those employees being your main differentiator that drives top-line sales growth, they will only be a drag on your bottom line.

How many hours of any of these 3 types of retail training is enough? Unfortunately, retailers usually only find out that what they did was not enough when sales drop or employees quit.

The ultimate goal of retail sales training is to nurture a deeper relationship with the shopper so that they buy more from your store on that day and the days and weeks ahead.

Online retail sales training programs like my can allow for less time and more follow-up strategy. Where once you had to get into a classroom for hour after hour to try to get something to stick, retailers can now offer bite-sized training. And each associate receives the same training so there’s no chance for them to say, “You didn’t train me on that.”

The key is for them to watch the material again and again so they can practice it again and again.

Again, retail sales training is not something to get through. It's something to master.

You don’t train your retail salespeople enough to get right once on a test; you train them so well that they can’t do it wrong on your salesfloor.

And that takes time.

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