While the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been nothing short of catastrophic for some industries, the retail sector has managed to hold firm amid the crisis.
As much as industries like tourism and hospitality have been decimated by national lockdowns, others have thrived as consumers’ buying patterns shift to the online space.
Statistics from Trading Economics show that South Africa’s retail trade grew 10.4% between June 2020 and June 2021 following an upwardly revised 16.3% rise in May. It was the third straight month of increases in retail activity.
The recovery, albeit gradual, has buoyed retailers which are now less skittish about investing time, money and resources in aspects like staff training, shelved at the height of the pandemic last year.
In fact, end-to-end online learning solution provider New Leaf Technologies has fielded an increasing number of inquiries from South African franchisee-model stores, particularly in the health and property sectors, which require training for employees and franchisees.
As business picks up so more staff need to be trained, yet traditional in-store and head office learning scenarios like workshops are no longer always possible because of restrictions on travel and pandemic-enforced measures like social distancing.
As such, remote training and e-learning have become essential for retail companies to bring employees up to speed on operations as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The “Global E-Learning Industry” report, released recently by market data company ReportLinker, found that the global market for e-learning is expected to grow from $250.8-billion (R3.7-trillion) in 2020 to $457.8-billion (R6.8-trillion) in 2026.
E-Learning Benefits to Retailers
Aside from the obvious efforts to mitigate restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, the shift to e-learning benefits retailers in a number of other ways. According to ReportLinker, these include:
- Developing staff proficiency in social learning tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube;
- Cheaper technology means greater accessibility;
- Saving costs on flights and accommodation for in-house training workshops; and
- Greater scope for geographic dispersion of employees.
E-Learning and the ‘Gig’ Economy
Another interesting development is how e-learning can be used for the purposes of training part-time or seasonal workers, who are pivotal to retail operations.
Even temporary workers are required to know products and service offerings well, but they need to become familiar with these quickly. This requirement is met by e-learning materials, which are often standardised because they can easily be accessed on mobile devices like smartphones.
This aspect is already being developed further.
So-called “gig apps” are emerging all over Europe and the US. These innovations offer people the chance to work briefly for a business like a clothing store or restaurant, even if only for a day.
Workers simply download the app, sign in, take a tutorial and wait for job opportunities to arise. These can be anything from washing dishes to filling in as a temp at an office.
For business owners still struggling to pay full-time staff as a result of the recession, this provides an excellent stop-gap measure, while also being a win for the short-term worker.
SMEs Can Use the Same Tools as Larger Companies
New Leaf Technologies co-founder Paul Hanly explains that cheaper technologies mean there is no reason why small to medium-sized enterprises can’t have access to the same tools as bigger companies.
“One of the big advantages of e-learning for retailers wanting to train their staff is that there are quantifiable metrics that can tell you a lot about the training programme itself, and how it may be improving overall business performance,” he says.
“The analytics built into the system gives you an overview – what is the subscription rate like, what is the drop-off rate like, how many inactive users have you got, who’s not started, who’s completed, how much time is being spent in training, what’s the best time to learn?
“By analysing this, you can let line managers know who the people are who might be inactive, and establish
whether learners are being encouraged to learn. These types of metrics immediately mean something for the business.”