Retail learning: 5 steps for success [PODCAST]

The world is changing – and never has an industry felt the shockwaves of this change like retail has. Adaptation, evolution and significant shifts in buyer behavior are the order of the decade; as you’d expect this has had a notable impact on business priorities. Retail learning and L&D has had to keep pace, often grappling to educate shop-floor staff quick enough to make an impact. It’s tough out there.
miguel premoli speed of retail L&D
No one knows this better than Miguel Premoli, Vice President of HR at Walgreens Boots Alliance. He has ridden the waves of change for over two decades in retail and recently shared his stories of survival in our Learning at Large Podcast. Full of insight, he highlights the critical components of the future retail learning landscape and discusses the integral role management plays in the employee experience.

Play this episode

Retail learning success steps…in 30 seconds.

Here’s Miguel’s 5 steps for retail learning success in less than 30 seconds – in case you don’t have time to listen or read right now! 

  • Step 1: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Step 2: Embrace the changing customer experience; it affects you too
  • Step 3: Learning = Exposure combined with experience 
  • Step 4: Managers are culture critical and an integral component of retail learning
  • Step 5: Data and analytics play a key role in HR and L&D

Step 1: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

The very nature of the retail industry means an ongoing sense of becoming something new. 

Coping with ambiguity, being flexible, and staying up-to-date with digital changes are the pillars to any successful retail learning leader, says Miguel. 

“A whole array of new companies and business models are being changed and transformed due to digital technology. So, the ability to cope with ambiguity, whilst remaining flexible and embracing an ongoing need for digital savviness will give retail learning leaders the capabilities they need for the future.”

He believes that confidently dealing with ambiguity and fostering a strong ability (and willingness) to pivot and plan quickly and react to changes is already a necessary and critical skill for retailers. If you combine that with a desperate need for flexibility and seeing things through different lenses, flexing your views to make the right decisions in an ever-changing environment

On top of that, L&D leaders need to stay digitally savvy up-to-speed with changes outside of their own spheres. It’s clear L&D must find comfort in the unknown. 

Step 2: Embrace the changing customer experience; it affects you too

It’s not new news that the entire consumer journey has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Retail, as an industry, has been forced to evolve to meet ongoing changes in consumer expectations and behaviors. In many cases that means providing a seamless, omnichannel experience across all customer touchpoints (on and offline) – ensuring the entire journey is valuable and memorable to the customer. 

“I think retail is going through systemic changes – triggered by a technology evolution and the emergence of ecommerce,” Miguel says, highlighting the impact this is having on the in-store experience. Retailers are now seeking to build more harmony between the brick and mortar store and online, with a real emphasis on ensuring the former elicits meaningful, valuable interactions. 

“The customer now wants something else from the physical experience in the store. Rather than just going and paying for the product with the cashier, more and more want advice. They want to try things, test them and have an experience that’s rewarding to them. So, our staff now need to be shaped to provide a more integrated experience, to become advisors to consumers and help them make the right choices when they go into the physical store.”

Learning, he says, plays a vital role in making the in-store experience a good one and ensuring that shop-floor staff are adept and knowledgeable in their roles. 

Step 3: Learning = Exposure combined with experience

Education for shop-floor staff needs to extend beyond traditional training approaches. Now teams also need to be product experts and provide a meaningful experience to consumers – that means they need accurate and up-to-date knowledge on a vast range of products, and quickly. According to Miguel, customers just expect it now. 

“When you go to a shop, you go to experience it – for us that means everything that’s related to beauty. You want to touch the product, you want to see how it looks on you. What are the benefits of the product? You want to try it out, test it. What we offer in the retail environment is the role of the beauty advisor. So, beauty advisors are people who are there to support you, understand the product features – how it works, the technology behind the products – and also do makeup on you and test those products on your skin and your face so you can have a complete immersion into the product experience.”

This enhanced customer journey is still what sets retail stores apart from browsing online, but it also does raise some serious challenges for L&D. Learning teams not only need to balance the ongoing learning needs of a growing, changing retail organization with new product lines and more, but they must think about what their learners want and need too. In Miguel’s experience, personalization has been a key element at Walgreens Boots Alliance: 

“We personalize the content depending on the individual’s role, as well as the level of seniority and experience they have.” He continues, exploring how he gets beauty advisors connected and engaged using social elements: “We encourage beauty advisors to come forward themselves in sharing best practices of things that they’ve done with a product or things they’ve learned about a product.”

This combination means that there’s a push of content that’s very unique to each person’s specific requirements, but then there’s also opportunities for sharing of best practices among beauty advisors in the organization to support continued learning. 

Miguel’s team also gradually increase the complexity of content teams are exposed to, meaning that as beauty advisors become more experienced, the learning they are exposed to evolves from product knowledge to industry trends and more. He says this increased complexity is a clear ladder of knowledge, which his employees value and appreciate.

Step 4: Empower and enable managers

The key message from Miguel here – if you want learning to be successful, you have to let go and allow opportunities for managers to play a critical role.  

“I think it’s very simple to say, let’s get the right content to the right individual at the right moment. But to actually do that, you have to let go. In the store, teams do not have much time to do digital learning – nevermind face-to-face training – many teams will continue to require essential coaching and mentoring from their manager.” 

Providing a range of short, personalized, tailored training supports success from a learning perspective, but it needs to be training that is critical for the user to do their job, and also to provide the right advice, at the right time. So, says Miguel, you’re probably going to need to provide microlearning to ensure it’s as useful as possible to the learner.

However, the real secret sauce is in allowing space for managers to support employees and foster the culture you’re trying to create. And, of course, you need to let go. It’s impossible without that. 

“We can have all these rules about understanding your learning culture and the nuances of it, but managers need to hammer them home. There’s so much you can put down in black and white, but there’s also just so much you can’t. Of course you can describe the culture, but I think the key point here is all the subtleness of the things that are not said but have become part of the culture – teams need proper coaching from leaders to really get to grips with that.”  

Step 5: Data and analytics will play a key role in HR and L&D

Both quantitative and qualitative are becoming more and more important to these human functions. Indeed, combining user feedback with analytics can help departments better define future deficiencies, capabilities, and aspects that need to be fixed.

“I think data analytics is going to play a key role. We as practitioners tend to be a bit shy on data, but I think there’s a lot of data that we have about our workforce that is now more readily available. We have more systems now and can read data and draw conclusions on how to better manage our teams and talent.”

Miguel believes that the real magic of data lies in combining data from the world of learning with that of business output. This begins to deliver real tangible and measurable results for the business and provides L&D teams with the opportunity to understand what’s working, the best ways to organize themselves and more. It even provides key opportunities to understand what skills may be needed for the future and highlight looming skills gaps. 

But he says the most critical aspect of data is developing an analysis framework which works for the business – not only to better control business capital, but also improve business results.

In summary

Miguel explores the how’s and what’s of a complex, moving learning landscape in the world of retail, and shines light on the struggles many L&D teams are currently enduring. But his message is one of positivity and remaining buoying amongst changing tides. Adaptability, resilience and being open-minded will continue to be vital skills in the retail L&D world, and teams would do well to embrace the change and look for new ways to leverage these new challenges. 

Miguel’s Book Recommendations

The Post-Capitalist Society, Peter Drucker

”This book has been around for a while, but it’s still very relevant and was very visionary in it’s time. It’s still a book that really opened my eyes – it’s a brilliant book, not only for learning managers, but in general it’s a book on economics, the knowledge economy and capital and policy. I think it was written more than 20 something years ago, and it’s impressive how relevant it is today and will be in the future. “

About Miguel

As VP of HR, Miguel oversees two of the five divisions within his organization. The first division is international retail, which covers all retail operations outside of the UK and US – in Latin America, Europe, and Asia. The second division is global brands; which oversees brands such as No. 7, Liz Earle, Botanics, and Sleek. With over 20 years’ of experience in HR, Miguel has worked with some of the world’s biggest organizations including Pepsico, Walmart and Revlon.

Contact Miguel

“I have my own blog – I don’t write very often, but once in a while I put out a couple of articles. It’s just my name and last name, dot com.

Join the conversation!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast, so feel free to get in touch on Twitter @learningatlarge with any questions or queries. You can also email me at As always, don’t forget to subscribe to Learning at Large in your favorite podcast app and leave us a 5-star rating if you enjoyed it. Thank you for joining us, and see you next time.

Prepare your people for 2020 –  Download your free retail learning strategy toolkit!
Modern learning for retail: 2020 toolkit