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How IT training helped SPAR Northern Ireland level the playing field

  • 5 min read

Understanding the importance of IT training for retail employees.

In today’s fast-moving retail world, businesses need to be able to harness the benefits of technology if they are to succeed – and getting staff up to speed is a critical part of the equation.

As technology becomes more advanced, keeping up with the competition has become an increasing challenge - especially for independent or franchised retailers without access to the vast resources of their major, multiple competitors.

At Marketstall, we deliver retail technology solutions for SPAR in Northern Ireland, which has over 270 franchised and independent retailers of varying store sizes and formats.

Whether it’s stock management, point-of-sale systems, or smart loyalty schemes, IT now underpins virtually every aspect of a retail business.

The importance of training employees on new technology

Designing IT systems capable of handling the many moving parts is only a fraction of the challenge. Over the many years we’ve been developing and implementing solutions for SPAR one of the most important things we have learned is that training is more important than the software itself.

We can create a system that has vast numbers of advanced features but employees need to know how to use them for maximum benefit.

This means that communicating with staff and training them well in how to integrate the technology into their workflow becomes the central challenge.

For SPAR, where every store is slightly different in terms of their requirements of the system, delivering this training becomes even more challenging, and more important.

End-to-end support

Retail is a very flexible business, and staff turnover can be a challenge, so if staff training is not ongoing, you can quickly find that things start to go wrong because the team on the floor is mostly composed of new members who haven’t yet had the right training in using the IT system.

To be successful in this environment, training has got to be an ongoing process. Our dedicated team of trainers remains at the beck and call of the teams in store always, because training and support makes all the difference to the success of any implementation.

Having said this, there are often times when an intense burst of activity is needed. There are two key periods when this applies for SPAR stores:

  1. When software is updated. To reduce the capital expenditure required for the outlets to keep their systems up to date, we operate an ‘as a service’ model for both software and hardware. We typically update the software three times each year and hardware on, roughly, five-year cycles across all the outlets.Whenever a new update is released, or new hardware is installed, it’s accompanied by a detailed and customisable training programme for staff at all levels.
  2. Service changes or outlet expansion. When any given outlet expands or changes its services this means a bigger or more sophisticated IT system is required. This, obviously, also requires more dedicated training.

Getting the best results

We always find the results are better when we take managers and their teams out of the retail environment to our purpose-built training centre. Where this isn’t possible, we have a mobile training team that delivers training in-store. More recently, we have launched an e-learning platform to allow us to deliver training for new employees remotely via online web chats.

This is something we’re going to be rolling out and giving more focus to in the future, although I don’t see it replacing face-to-face training in the foreseeable future.

Delivering training effectively can be challenging when working with managers of busy convenience stores as, for many, keeping stores running is a dawn-to-dusk commitment and asking them to take time out can be difficult.

Success is down to effective implementation in challenging circumstances, and training is at the very core of this

Ultimately, IT systems are a significant investment for SPAR, and the business needs to see it is getting a return, so investing the time in training to make sure implementations are done properly is not an area that can be negotiated.

Maintaining a competitive edge

As convenience stores become more ambitious in terms of the service they offer to customers, the requirements for IT systems have become more complex, and this places an even greater emphasis on the importance of training. For example, many SPAR stores now offer hot food and in-store dining, which has created a need for systems to support processes such as table service and portion control - previously the domain of hospitality management systems.

At the same time, to remain competitive with chain retailers with large IT budgets, convenience stores are increasingly implementing more advanced technology solutions such as mobile point-of-sale systems and self-checkouts. Again, implementing these technologies is only possible when every member of the team is fully on board.

The impact our systems have had on the success of SPAR stores is clear. We have also helped facilitate the large diversification in the services that are offered at the stores, a key part of the strategy for competing with the local branches of major, multiple retailers.

Much of this success is down to effective implementation in challenging circumstances, and training is at the very core of this.

In many ways, IT success is not about computers, but about communication.

 

About the author

Daren Nickels is a founding member of the Marketstall team. The business began as the internal IT support department for SPAR in Northern Ireland 25 years ago, but launched as an independent company in 2009 when it began delivering services to other stores outside the group.

Today the company provides retail IT solutions for almost 500 retail stores across Northern Ireland and Australia.

Find our more about retail solutions from Brother.

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