Study shows training boosts sales — a lot
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
A university study has quantified that training associates leads to a 23 percent lift in sales.
Marshall L. Fisher, professor of operations, information and decisions at Wharton, and his colleagues began exploring the topic about 10 years ago by collecting millions of responses of customer satisfaction survey data from retailers. What they found was that the difference between stores rating high or low in customer satisfaction could be traced to four factors asked of customers:
- Could you find somebody to help you?
- If you found someone, were they knowledgeable?
- Could you find what you came for?
- When you wanted to pay for something, was the line at checkout a reasonable length?
Researchers found that while three of the four levers had been studied quite extensively, the value of stores associates’ knowledge had been largely ignored.
Two years ago, however, Prof. Fisher was contacted by Experticity, which develops training modules for brands that are taken by retail associates. Experticity helped gather data from a large department store with around 300,000 sales associates. For a three year period, they looked at weekly sales for each associate and how much training they were receiving.
The study found sales associates who did any training at all averaged 46 percent more sales per hour than those who didn’t train. Taking into account that those who volunteered were more motivated than those who didn’t, researchers found that half of the 46 percent difference was due to the individuals themselves but that the other half was due to training.
One surprising finding was that associates specifically trained on the attributes of one brand still led to an aggregate gain across all brands. Said Prof. Fisher, "Apparently, just breadth of knowledge that would let an associate compare across brands was a rising tide that lifted all boats."
Prof. Fisher believes such training is under-emphasized by stores because it is costly and hard to measure. He said, "And those benefits are often in the future, whereas the cost is often immediate. If I have more people, I wrote more checks for payroll. Or if I give people a raise and hire better people, I write more checks for payroll."
The professor, however, added that training should lead to benefits across a number of service industries and with other tasks, such as call centers. He added, "I think that’s one clear implication: that if you measure the value of investing in your people — in this case, training — it turns out to be much higher than people tend to believe."
- Want to Stop Retail Showrooming? Start Training Your Staff – Knowledge@Wharton
- Do Online Training Work in Retail? Improving Store Execution through Online Learning – Wharton
Why aren’t retailers investing more in training their staffs? What aspects of associate training do you think are most helpful? Have you witnessed a link between training and improved sales?