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  • Joanne Neidorf

Results From Our Survey: Training Methods

Merchant Insight Consulting conducted an online survey to gather input from individuals with deep experience in the Merchant and Planning functions on their experience of training and development "on the job."

We chose this focus because we believe there is an opportunity to improve both the quality and availability of training offered in retail buying and planning. We wanted to understand the current methods employed, how different types of content are covered, and how effective different methods are at achieving desired outcomes for training and development.

Process Training

We defined "process training" as instruction on how a company does things or what steps a retail Merchant or Planner must take to get things done; all survey respondents reported receiving process training at some point.

We asked respondents how frequently (Regularly, Sometimes, Never) they received training on processes via each of these methods:

  • In-Person, Instructor-led training (classroom or workshop)

  • Hands-on/"at desk" training with their manager

  • 1:1 Coaching or Hands-on/"at desk" training with a peer

  • Online/E-Learning courses

  • Documentation or written instructions (e.g., instructions, manuals, checklists, etc.)

Clearly, "at desk" training with a peer is the most common way our respondents received this type of training - 100% of respondents report they received process training from a peer either regularly or sometimes.

"At desk" training with their manager is the next most common method - 24% report this is used regularly, and 71% report this is used sometimes.

Written instructions are also often employed - 41% have received this training regularly via written instructions, and an additional 41% report it is used sometimes.

Instructor-led classes or workshops may not always be used (only 6% report that it's used regularly), but 76% report this delivery method is sometimes used.

And finally, online or e-learning is the least common delivery method with only 6% reporting regular usage and only 18% reporting occasional usage. A full 65% have never used online training to learn about their company's processes.

Key Takeaway:

Retailers are relying heavily on individual "at desk" training on processes. This means the training is tailored to the individual's immediate learning needs, but is also time- and labor-intensive for the person (peer or manager) who is delivering the training.

Systems/Tool Training

In order to be effective and efficient retail Merchants and Planners need to understand and be skilled at using the systems and tools they have available. These can range from office tools like Excel and PowerPoint to retail management systems for financial planning, assortment planning, allocation, replenishment and so on. Merchants and Planners also need to understand and get the most out of their reporting tools.

We asked the respondents to indicate how frequently each training method is used to train them on the systems and tools that they rely on to do their jobs.

As with Process training, "at desk" training with a peer is the most common, with 100% reporting they've been trained on systems and tools by this method either regularly or sometimes.

Written instructions are quite common, with 35% reporting this is a regular method of systems/tool training and a further 47% indicating this is sometimes used.

"At desk" training with their manager is not used regularly (only 12% report this), but is used sometimes as reported by 65% of respondents.

Instructor-led classroom training and workshops are used regularly according to 24% of respondents and sometimes by an additional 47%.

And once again, online training or e-learning is the least common method - with a full 65% reporting they have never received systems and/or tool training with this method.

Key Takeaway:

System/Tool training appears to be a bit more "standardized" than process training as there is a greater reliance on written instructions and instructor-led training - but individualized training by a peer or manager is still the dominant method to delivery this training.

Job-Specific "Hard" Skills Training

Another area we looked at is the training provided for job-specific "hard" skills. We defined this as skills specific to the Merchant and/or Planner - negotiation, forecasting, strategic planning, inventory management and business performance review.

Once again, "at desk" training methods - both with a peer and with a Manager - lead the pack in terms of how often they are used for this type of training. "At desk" training with a peer is by far the most regularly reported method with 41% saying they have been trained on these "hard" skills in this way. An additional 47% have experienced this method at least sometimes.

"At desk" training with a Manager is reported by 77% of respondents as being used either regularly or sometimes to teach them "hard" skills.

What is interesting - and different - about the "hard" skills training vs. the process and system/tools training is the higher proportion of respondents who report that none of these methods are used at all - implying that they have never been provided with "hard" skills training on the job.

This is shocking, and yet expected. Hard skills are critical to job performance, but at least some of the people in these roles have never received any training or guidance on them. That's the shocking part.

What makes it expected is that our work in the industry has made it clear that these skills are much more difficult to design and deliver training for. Unlike process and system/tools training, it is more challenging to develop or find training that addresses these "hard" skills. Further, instructor-led training can be expensive and time-consuming, hence it may not reach everyone in the organization.

As understandable as this shortfall is, it is nonetheless concerning that training and development in these critical "hard" skills are lagging at most retailers.

Key Takeaway:

"Hard" skills training is not reaching everyone it should, and there is a heavy reliance on individualized training provided by a Manager or peer.

General "Soft" Skills Training

Finally, we considered the training offered for "soft" skills. We included things like communication/presentation skills, time management and leadership training in this category.

What's interesting here is that much like with the "hard" skills, a significant proportion of respondents indicate they have "Never" received training using any of these methods - and certainly no one reports any of these methods being used regularly.

Instructor-led classes or workshops seem to be the most common way to receive this type of training - 76% report that this method is sometimes employed.

The next most common method is "at desk" training with a Manager, with 59% reporting this is sometimes used.

Written instructions appear to be at least sometimes available to 47% of respondents.

Key Takeaway:

Retailers do not regularly deliver "soft" skills training to their buyers and planners, despite the fact that these "soft" skills will have an impact on their effectiveness and - potentially - job satisfaction.


To request a copy of the full survey report, please contact us at

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