How to Motivate a Retail Employee

Bob Phibbs By
how to motivate an employee

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How to motivate retail employees … 

It’s a subject retailers routinely ask about.

My answer is always the same: You don’t.

That might sound strange coming from a motivational speaker, so let me explain.

You can try to motivate a retail employee with the “do this or else you’re fired” speech. But fear only goes so far — and you only get to use this tactic once or twice during a person’s employment. 

And sure, you can try to boost an employee’s motivation by constantly giving compliments to improve their self-image. But this is problematic, too.

Trying to pour good feelings into a bucket with a hole in it becomes increasingly frustrating — and doesn’t fill up the bucket. Soon, you’ll give up, and you won’t have more sales (or more motivated staff) to show for it.

Before we learn how to motivate retail employees to sell, we must brush up on our managerial skills and understand what employee motivation actually entails. Let’s dive in.

What exactly is employee motivation?

Do you associate motivation with achieving goals? 

Then you’re a goals-driven retailer, and you’re probably a Driver personality. I am, too.

You’re like a hungry bunny. And the sales bonus or award? That’s like a carrot dangling in front of you. 

You only need to know what or how many to sell, and you’re ready to go with your retail strategy. That’s because winning is important to you (as it is to me.) 

If everyone were a Driver personality, then retail games to motivate employees would be a great idea.

But here’s the thing: not everyone is.

There are many personality types, each with different motivations. 

The opposite personality style of a Driver is the Amiable personality. This retail employee doesn’t care a whit about winning a contest. They want everyone to win. 

Then there’s the Analytical personality. This employee is more interested in tracking the results of the competition than competing in the contest. 

Finally, the Expressive personality plays the game creatively. To this retail employee, the contest rules are merely guidelines. 

Pro tip: Discover your personality style with my free quiz. Your retail employees can take it, too!

So, if retail sales games for employees aren’t a sure-fire way to inspire everyone, we’ve got to look at how to motivate retail employees through a different lens. 

Let’s go deeper then ...

Why do you want to learn how to motivate retail employees?

Is it because you want to hit a sales goal? Because you feel like you can “fix” your employees?

Do you see potential where your employees do not? Or, maybe you want to motivate your employees so your retail business can succeed? 

Here’s the truth:

Your employees must motivate themselves — even to do what you want them to do. 

Everyone is motivated toward something 100 percent of the time. But sometimes, people are more motivated to fail than to succeed (even if they don’t know it).

This statement doesn’t just apply to employees but to store owners, District Managers, and even C-level executives. 

I now realize that every time I tried to motivate someone else or “fix” their self-esteem, it didn’t work. That’s because we can’t “fix” other people — especially if they don’t want our help. 

The more time I spent trying to improve others, the more I avoided my own self-esteem issues. (Probably because I had a pretty rotten self-image for a while.) 

Often it’s due to hiring poorly to begin with and also a classic retail training mistake.

What has to change

It wasn’t until I began working on my mindset that my self-image and motivations changed. I started to:

  • Notice how I talked to myself each day
  • Keep myself from framing situations by how I’d lost
  • Stop dredging up the past

Some people say you can motivate employees by giving them a larger purpose or a big vision behind your business. For some brands, like Lululemon, that’s great.

If you’re like most businesses, though, you aren’t saving children from hunger, defending the environment, or connecting people across continents. 

You’re a retail business, and you want to make a profit. 

That’s okay!

So before you focus on how to motivate retail employees, start with your motivations. 

Your self-esteem is the result of habitual thinking — how you’ve dealt with past influences. Your motivation stems from a desire to continue working on yourself. It’s based largely on whether you view the world as kind or unkind. 

The more comfortable you get in your skin, the more you’ll know what motivates you — and the more you’ll understand what builds your self-esteem and keeps you motivated.

When you’re confident about your own personal motivations, you can begin to influence your staff. Here’s how.

5 ideas to engage and motivate your retail employees 

Some retailers can motivate employees with dollars — close X sales, and you’ll get a higher paycheck. If you’re a luxury retailer, a commission or performance-incentivized sales metric might make sense. 

However, commission-based sales don’t work for every company or employee. And after a while, commissions become more of an entitlement than a bonus program.

Don’t worry if you don’t want to pay based on the number of units sold, you’ve got other options. Start with these five ways to motivate sales associates today.

1. Give them luxury

Your top-performing employees want to feel important. So, if you have great people on your team, let them know you value their work. They’ll be more likely to stay on your team and likely more motivated, too. 

Treat your best-performing retail associates to something special. Here are a few ideas:

  • A box of chocolates at the end of a hard week
  • A 30-minute massage
  • A handwritten thank you note from you, the boss, mailed straight to their home
  • A gift certificate to a fine dining restaurant 

I know one retailer who, after they beat their daily goal, surprised her of-age crew with pizza, bowling, and champagne.As you might guess, the results were fantastic. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what “luxury” you choose. What’s important is acknowledging your best employees. So, let them know your gratitude in an impromptu fashion. 

We all want to feel important. If you have quality people on your team, make them feel appreciated. They’ll be more likely to stay a part of your team — and you’ll no longer need to wonder how to motivate retail employees. 

Plus, the more important you make your employees feel appreciated, the more important they’ll make your customers feel appreciated. And that’s a very good thing for your retail business

Pro tip: Don’t publish your criteria to achieve appreciation. Then you’ll have to do it every time an employee acts a certain way (much like a contest), and it will defeat the purpose. 

2. Give them time

Time is our most precious resource. You care about your retail ROI, so give your retail employees what they care about: a few hours of their time back!

Give your top performer of the month a half or full day off with pay. Do it without fanfare. Let this employee stay home, sleep late, take care of their kids, or go to a movie. You cover their shift. 

Don’t make a big deal about the paid time off. Remember, it’s not a contest but a gift. When your top-performing employee comes back, they’ll feel energized and, most importantly, motivated.

3. Give them reassurance 

Your staff spends a lot of time at work. It’s like a second home, so you want to make them feel comfortable. 

Let your top retail associates know that they make a difference to your retail business and that they have a place within your organization.

Sure, big companies like Google let employees bring their dogs to work. You probably can’t do that. However, you can reassure employees that you appreciate the time they spend working for your business. 

4. Give them skills

Are your retail employees gaining valuable life skills? With the proper training, they should be. 

Let’s take the ability to communicate effectively. It’s a crucial skill for success on the sales floor, and it also gives your employees confidence in:

  • Using a professional tone of voice
  • Making eye contact 
  • Actively listening to others

Talk about a skill your retail employees can take with them anywhere!

5. Give them the right training

Studies show we find motivation faster when we feel good. What’s one easy way to make your employees feel good about themselves? 

Equip your retail staff with the resources they need to succeed at their jobs. 

This goes for top performers, too. Even motivated employees get bored if they’re not challenged to learn new things. 

From greeting and listening to customers to handling objections and learning to effectively add-on sales, there’s a lot that goes into training a world-class sales team. 

Now, I know it’s not easy to think up retail staff incentive ideas, generate more sales, and improve customer service. 

That’s why I created SalesRX, my award-winning online retail sales training. It’s everything your team needs to make a remarkable shopping experience for your customers — so you start seeing double-digit sales increases every month.

We recently refilmed all of the content. You can’t find fresher training that’s more impactful, concise, and relevant to retail today than SalesRX. You can learn more here.

Give your staff opportunities to develop professionally. Your retail employees will be more motivated, and your sales volume will surge. 

How do you motivate an employee?

First, motivate yourself.

Do the best job for your store, then try to motivate your retail employees using the tips in this article.

If you have an unmotivated employee, don’t close your eyes and work around them. Have that difficult conversation. If necessary, fire them. They are as miserable as you are trying to get them up to speed. 

Just remember, you can’t motivate everyone in the same way. Each employee has a different personality — a unique viewpoint of the world. Work on your mindset, and you’ll find positive ways to deal with staff and keep your store an energized, motivational place to work.

 
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