To say that the retail industry operates in a changed landscape is not just to describe the difference between today’s high streets and those of even ten years ago; the advent of ecommerce has affected the sector more than almost any other, and multi-channel operations are now the norm. We haven’t stopped shopping, but the ways we access and receive goods, products, and customer service have been – and continue to be – rapidly transformed.
Retail was already a fast-paced environment, but that is now even more the case. It is also a sector that often ranks learning and development fairly low on its priority lists; the margins between thriving and surviving are often very tight. While the sector provides a greater amount of training than financial services, it underperforms by comparison with utilities – and a lower than average percentage of its training is delivered ‘off-the-job’. The newly appointed executive manager in particular can find themselves very much being ‘expected to hit the ground running’, and the ground is often shifting beneath them.
In a time-pressured sector, time away from day-to-day demand for learning and development is a logistical challenge that many organisations struggle to meet. A 2013 survey found that nearly half of all retail managers lack support to help them continue to develop – a concern that can only be underlined by the need for retail managers to motivate and inspire their teams. Compared to the economy as a whole, People 1st 2013 Retail Sector Labour Market Review identified ‘planning and organisation’ and ‘strategic management skills’ as more critical gaps within the sector, with staff training remaining incomplete a major factor as to why.
As The Department for Business Innovation & Skills October 2013 report, A Strategy for Future Retail, comments: “UK consumers will continue to be demanding, with an increasing premium on convenience consumption (where the purchase and receipt of goods requires little time or effort), experience consumption (the customer journey being enjoyable rather than simply about utility) and market segmentation (where consumption reflects the self-identity of individuals and groups, increasing the importance of brands, labels and marketing).”
In an operating environment that is both time-critical and increasingly dependent on customer service for differentiation, a time-effective and more bespoke approach to staff development provides a valuable alternative. As a development approach, coaching provides both flexibility and the ability to target attention where it will deliver maximum benefit. As the sector becomes one in which customer data is available for collection and analysis is available like never before, the skill to interpret and act on the information that this provides is needed as never before. Coaching – alongside other forms of training – provides a valuable means of ensuring that retail organisations can measure not just the effects of sales and footfall, but the reasons that lead to them.
Coaching can also benefit by linking individual development more closely with business strategy and with culture and values. In a sector where these are key differentiators of the customer experience, their reinforcement – and the knock-on effect of building a coaching culture that provides models for those entering the industry (often less qualified than the average across the economy) – provides a valuable secondary benefit.