Retail Jobs 101: How to Hire, Train, and Retain The Right Employees

Hiring for retail jobs, employees | Shopify Retail blog

 As the owner of a retail business, you've probably dreamed about getting some extra help. Advertising a retail job for your store(s) can bring you a pro to take over some of your workload, but finding the right person is a challenge in itself. 

And as if it wasn't hard enough to find the right people to work for you, competent workers have more job options available to them — making your prospects of hiring great staff members even tougher.

While finding and hiring the right retail talent is a job in itself, it isn't impossible. Here, we'll be covering tips on how to hire, train, and retain employees so you get the help you need and don't continue to face increased recruiting and turnover costs.

Hiring for Retail Jobs: Finding Great Talent

When it comes to finding and hiring talent for your retail store, chances are you'll soon realize that competing with the big-box retailers is no easy task.

To deal with the frustration of not being able to find enough candidates with your existing tactics, consider the advice of customer service expert Anne. M. Obarski, who suggests the following as a starting point:

"Great employees are not born, they are developed in a business atmosphere where training is stressed, individuality is encouraged and personalities are respected. Word travels about the work environment in all sizes of stores. The key to recruiting quality employees is promoting and possessing a positive work environment no matter how large or small you are."

With those words in mind, a good first step is developing criteria for the perfect retail employee. This should ideally take the form of a concrete retail job title and job description.

Check out this Retail Associate job posting by Taylor Stitch to get started. As you'll notice from this company's example, there are a few things to address in your retail job description, including:

  • Daily duties and responsibilities
  • Personality traits
  • Physical requirements
  • Qualifications or experience level

Once you know what type of employee you're looking for, it's time to get the word out. Traditionally, this meant simply putting a "Hiring" sign in your front window. However, in the era of online hiring, you might find that a lonely sign isn't enough to get the quality or quantity of applicants you need.

Given that you might not have the budget to post to popular job boards and the like, here are some cost-effective ways to advertising your job opening:

  • Posting to your company and personal social media accounts, which should include Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram
  • Asking family, friends, and professional networks for referrals
  • Going to other retail stores and casually mentioning the opportunity to a sales rep that delights you, a practice that's also known as "poaching" in the recruiting industry
  • Posting to Craigslist, Kijiji, and other classifieds sites

Once you start receiving resumes from prospective candidates, you'll need to interview select individuals and choose which ones will make the cut.

Free Guide: Interview Questions for Hiring Retail Employees

Hiring competent retail employees is becoming increasingly challenging. Use this guide to ask the right questions during the interview process to ensure you hire the right people for your store.

To help you do just that, here are tips from retail expert Bob Phibbs:

  • Hire people to work more hours, more shifts: Don't hire tons of part-time workers. Instead, hire fewer workers who can work more hours.
  • Look for employees who play well with others: During the interview, seek out evidence that applicant is engaged in the "real world" with other human beings (i.e. sports, volunteering, hobby groups, etc.).
  • Past behavior determines future behavior: Frame interview questions around specific situations, meaning asking questions like "give me a time...," "when was the last time...," and other behavioral interview questions.
  • Sell them on why you're a great place to work: Phibbs recommends talking about your history, the work environment, perks, and management style, to name a few factors.
  • Don't trust your gut: Remember that no one is perfect. Even if you've found somebody who answers questions to your exact liking, be your own devil's advocate and find something that you don't like about them to balance your perspective. 
  • Hire after a cooling off period: Give yourself some time before making the final call.

For more advice on hiring and vetting staff members, read our article on hiring and vetting your first retail employee >

Once you've gone through the process and found the perfect number of employees you require, it's time to move onto training and retaining them.

Retail Job Training for Steller Performance

Retail job staff training | Shopify RetailBefore you start training your newly hired employees, it's important that you understand and differentiate between the ideas of teaching the necessary "hard skills" and conditioning the behavior or "soft-skills" of your employees.

Specific skills, like using your POS system, writing reports, stocking and managing inventory, will require step-by-step instructions for your new hires. For these processes, it's necessary for retail staff to follow the appropriate steps and avoid deviation.

💡 PRO TIP: Use Shopify POS staff roles and permissions to limit the things staff can do without manager approval in your point of sale system—like modifying inventory levels, changing a product’s price, or applying discounts to a sale.

But other aspects of the job like courtesy, safety, efficiency, customer service and the like shouldn't be taught in the same robotic "how-to" way. You'll obviously want to provide guidelines and share what you've found to work in the past, but then leave some space for them to insert their own personality. This is the space where they can make an emotional investment in the job.

Two companies that do an incredible job of training and empowering their employees are Disney and Nordstrom. The two major retailers have a reputation for training some of the most proactive and courteous employees in the world.

Disney provide general guidelines around safety, cost control, and efficiency, but then simply tells new hires that the desired outcome of every interaction is to delight the "guest" and exceed their expectation where possible. From there, they leave it up to their employees to fill in the gaps.

FURTHER READING: Learn how these 7 retailers are embracing modern customer service tactics.

Meanwhile, Nordstrom is known for providing what might be the most succinct employee handbook ever, containing one simple rule: "Use good judgement in all situations."
Here are some other tips for rethinking how you train your employees:

  • Listen more than you talk: Doing the reverse makes you sound like a know-it-all who isn't open to suggestions, ideas, or new ways of doing things.
  • Understand their motivation: People are encouraged to do better at their job for all sorts of reasons. Some motivators are extrinsic (salary, commission, perks) and some are intrinsic (skill mastery, autonomy, and learning new things), so it's fair to say that if you treat everyone the same, you'll get less than ideal results.
  • Help them learn: People make mistakes. You've made them and your employees will make them. Rather than "losing it" or blaming them, consider helping them reflect on their actions, what went wrong, and what could be done differently the next time around for improved results.

Lastly, if you're really keen on learning more about employee behavior, I highly recommend checking out Dan Pink's book "Drive."

Retail Jobs: It's All About Retention

After putting in so much time and effort to find, interview, hire, and then train a new employee, it's devastating when they prematurely leave — meaning you have to go through the hiring cycle all over again.

Just how costly is to replace an employee? The Small Business Chronicle estimates that on average it costs $17,000 to replace an employee that is at the median income in the U.S., which was $56,516 according to 2015 data from the U.S. Census. The bottom line is that it's costly to lose good workers.

Additionally, here are some interesting stats from a survey by Hay Group:

  • 26% of retailers said their employee turnover costs have increased
  • 74% of retailers said their workers leave for better opportunities, rather than higher salaries
  • Retailers averaged 67% turnover for part-time employees
So, how can you increase retention for your retail employees? Here are some quick tips to get you to start thinking in the right direction:
  • Create an advancement roadmap: As the above statistics demonstrate, employees leave for better opportunities, not necessarily better pay. So, consider outlining an advancement plan to help employees see future opportunities within your company and envision where they could be in a given period of time.
  • Provide regular feedback: Performance reviews don't need to come a handful of times a year or for the sole purposes of discussing a raise. It's important to have a regular check-in to provide feedback and obtain your employee's opinions and concerns consistently. 
  • Create trust and transparency: Making yourself available to connect with your employees through an "open-door" policy or carrying an approachable demeanor will go a long way towards winning your employees over and getting them to stick around.

On top of those suggestions, brainstorm some workplace characteristics that you would want to work in. Are they all present in what you have to offer? Where can you fill in the gaps?

Learning From Mistakes

Getting your store properly staffed is never an easy task, but hopefully, with these tips you'll have a better understanding of what you could do differently to improve results.

The quest to finding great employees is both an art and science, something requiring both good intuition and strong judgment, but most importantly practice. So, if you've made some mistakes in the past, learn your lessons, and move on.