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People are the secret to retail success and creating a customer experience for the 21st century means retail industry must transform its approach to lure new talent into the store.

That’s the message key retail leaders expressed regarding building tomorrow’s workforce, and how retail talent can play a pivotal role in driving sales, in the opening keynote at the recent NRF’s Retail’s ‘Big Show’ held in New York City Jan. 15-17.

“I believe retail is the most exciting and dynamic industry in the U.S. It’s the nation’s top employer and key driver of growth and a pillar of the local community,” said panel moderator and NRF Chairman Kip Tindell. Tindell is co-founder and chairman of The Container Store.

“Great people make great business,” he said.

The retail segment is the largest U.S. private sector employer and retail employment is expected to increase by another million by 2022, according to NRF. Yet the number of hires isn’t keeping pace with growth.

One big reason is retail isn’t viewed as an attractive career, said the panelists, and retailers need to boost training and career advancement opportunities to recruit and retain talented workers.

Tindell, along with Terry J. Lundgren, the retiring chairman and CEO of Macy’s, and Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran, shared insight on why the industry must make retail exciting to prospective job seekers and how the retail workforce has a direct impact on a retailer’s success and sustainability.

“People are the secret, whether it’s redefining the in-store experience or creating the customer experience for the 21st century. People are shaping what’s ahead in retail,” said Tindell, adding, “There is a misconception about retail jobs yet no other job opportunity offers so many chances to touch people’s lives.”

The Container Store is actively trying to change the retail employment perception and investing heavily to lure and keep staff. For example, the retail industry training standard is eight hours. The Container Store, noted Tindell, invests 250 formal training hours for full-time staff.

In response to hiring challenges, Wal-Mart has implemented a series of training and development programs, from Pathways, an entry-level program providing base skills to new associates, to its ‘Academies,’ a program focused on the ‘store of excellence’ for associate training.

Foran noted Wal-Mart is also focused on providing technology and tools to help staff do their jobs better.

“We know if we can set the army, that is Wal-Mart, to march then it’s not just going to be better for Wal-Mart but better for the industry as a whole,” Foran said. “We are only as good as the last transaction so we are totally reliant on our associates.”

Macy’s CEO Lundgren said Macy’s is boosting it focus on technology — and described such tools as key to attracting great talent. Macy’s has a Leadership Institute program for employees completing one year in the job, and there are separate leadership programs for mid management and the VP-level staff, he noted.

“We’ve recognized, as a top company, promoting women and technology all helps us recruit,” he said.


Want to learn more about retail customer experience innovations? Register for the ICX Association’s annual Interactive Customer Experience Summit  happening June 5-7 at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas. Check out the agenda, register here.


Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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