Motivating Retail Associates: 7 Proven Ways to Boost Employee Morale and Performance

Who you have in your store is practically as important as what you have in it. Your staff has a direct impact on sales, customer satisfaction, and the overall success of your store, which is why it’s important that you should not only invest in finding and hiring the right people but also put in the effort to keep them happy and motivated.

To help you accomplish this, we’ve put together some pointers on how to drive employee morale and performance. Go through them and see whether you can apply them in your retail store.

1. Regularly recognize people for a job well done

Matt Heller, author of The Myth of Employee Burnout, says that recognition is one of the best ways to stimulate your employees to take the actions you want them to take.

If staff members are making a positive impact on your business, be sure to tell them how amazing they are. “The more people hear how they are having a positive impact on others, the more they will want to do it again and again,” adds Heller.

Also, note that recognizing employees shouldn’t be something that you should only do every once in a while. The key to truly motivating people is recognizing the good that they’re doing on a regular basis.

“Too often company initiatives are talked about in an orientation program only to be never mentioned again. This can actually be very demotivating, because people start to wonder why they are doing what they are doing,” he says.

“On the other hand, if you regularly communicate how an employee’s behavior is impacting others, they will start to understand how they support the bigger picture and company goals.”

To illustrate how a store owner could motivate the staff, Heller offers the following scenario:

Let’s say you have an employee, Josh, who is very good at resetting the store and displays after large crowds have come through. Recognition that ties his behaviors back to the company goals might sound like this:

“Josh, I noticed how quickly you get out on the floor to reset the displays after a big rush of guests. I really appreciate this! It helps the guests find what they need and ultimately creates a more pleasant shopping experience for everyone.”

Now Josh knows that what he does has a direct impact on the guest experience and the performance of the store, and is much more likely to be motivated to take that action again.

Keep this example in mind whenever you see your employees doing their job well. Verbalize how much you value their work and make sure they know that what they’re doing directly affects your business.

2. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

Rachel Cooper, a marketing specialist at incentive program platform provider, re-affirms the importance of employee recognition but adds that companies must also encourage their staff to recognize their fellow employees.

“Not only is it important that managers recognize employees for a job well done, it is equally important that there is some sort of peer-to-peer recognition going on at work,” mentions Cooper.

“Think about it. People you work with have a large impact on your self-esteem and ability to succeed. These are people you are seeing on a day-to-day basis. Even if you don’t want to admit it, their opinions matter.”

Promote a positive work environment by encouraging your workers to support and build each other up. One effective way of implementing this is by sharing “recognition stories.”

In an article on, Josh Bersin of HR research and advisory firm Bersin & Associates writes that they identified storytelling as one of the most powerful practices in employee recognition.

“When someone does something great and is recognized by their peers, tell people about it,” he writes. “These stories create employee engagement and learning.”

So, the next time you have a meeting or even a social gathering with your staff, brag about their success by telling feel-good recognition stories.

On top of motivating employees to perform better, having a “recognition-rich-culture” can also lower turnover rates. According to a study by Bersin & Associates, companies that do a great job at fostering recognition and engagement “have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers with ineffective recognition programs.”

3. Pay and train your employees well

Money may not be the only thing driving your staff, but you have to admit that it does play a significant role when it comes to employees — especially in retail.

Multiple studies have shown that retailers with well-paid, well-trained employees outperform competitors that didn’t invest enough in their staff.

In a New piece about retail staffing, James Surowiecki cites a Wharton School study that found that “every dollar in additional payroll led to somewhere between four and twenty-eight dollars in new sales.”

Similarly, MIT professor Zeynep Ton conducted an in-depth study on the operations of various retailers and discovered that companies such as Trader Joe’s, Costco, QuikTrip, and Mercadona, which invest significantly more in their employees, “have high profits, low prices for their industry, excellent operational metrics, and a reputation for great customer service.”

“These retailers deliver great value to their customers, employees, and investors all at the same time,” she adds.

It may be tempting to cut labor costs when you’re trying to increase profits or reduce expenses, but Ton warns that doing this can cause your operations to suffer. Remember that properly stocking shelves and serving customers requires significant effort and judgment; not paying your staff well could discourage them from exerting themselves fully.

As Ton aptly puts it:

It’s the low-paid employee, not the inventory-management software, who notices that a shelf looks messy or that some of the products are in the wrong place. It’s the low-paid employee who notices that some of the lettuce has gone bad or that there are still signs up for last week’s promotion. It’s the low-paid cashier who can tell the difference between serrano peppers and jalapeno peppers during checkout. It’s the low-paid employee who notices that there are too many customers waiting in the checkout and offers to open an additional cash register. When retailers don’t invest in human capital, operational execution suffers and the company pays with lower sales and lower profits than it could have had.

It’s best to view labor as a sales driver rather than a cost driver. Realize that paying and training your employees well leads to better output and, in turn, higher sales and customer satisfaction.

4. Listen to your front-line employees

“One of the easiest things retail managers can do to boost morale and engagement for their employees is to just listen to them,” says Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group.

“Store employees are able to provide great feedback on topics such as technology solutions to products, or even fellow employees, but management teams have to be willing to listen and make changes. Employees regularly interact with customers and so they’re uniquely aware of pain-points and can jump-start the process of identifying areas for improvement.”

According to Castelán, your willingness to listen to your front-line employees can benefit you in two big ways: first, your staff members get a boost in morale because they feel more valued; and second, the input they provide can lead to positive transformations in your business.

As an example, Castelán brings up Best Buy’s “Renew Blue” transformation, which led to the company’s highly successful comeback. Plenty of changes were implemented at Best Buy during this period of change, but one of the key steps that Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly took was to engage with rank-and-file employees in Best Buy stores.

In doing so, he discovered that employees were frustrated with the company’s internal search engine which returned inaccurate results. That issue was fixed shortly thereafter.

Joly also brought back employee discounts and invested in training Best Buy’s staff on new technologies.

All those changes led to happier and well-trained employees who were better-equipped to serve shoppers.

Vend Tip

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5. Hire A-players

It goes without saying that you should always aim to hire A-players; they perform better and get results. But that’s not the only reason that you should go for superstar employees. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the mere presence of A-players in the company can have a positive effect on the performance of other employees.

As the Harvard Business Review cites:

On average, department-level output increases by 54% after the arrival of a star. A significant fraction of the star effect is indirect: after removing the direct contribution of the star, department level output still increases by 48%.

There are two explanations for this. The first is that A-players can motivate their colleagues to perform better, and the second is that they help the organization “recruit better talent going forward.”

Keep this study in mind whenever you’re dealing with staffing issues. Invest the necessary resources to find superstar employees, and be sure to apply the tips above to keep them.

Further Reading

Need more staffing tips and insights? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Training and Motivating Retail Employees, an in-depth resource packed with actionable takeaways for motivating employees and boosting staff productivity. In this guide, you’ll learn:

How to empower your workforce to maximize happiness and productivity
What tools and methods to use when educating your staff
How to motivate your staff to bring their best selves to work

Learn More

6. Empower them with better tools

Invest in up-to-date and well-functioning tools and equipment. This not only empowers your staff but also increases productivity and helps them do their jobs better.

Let’s consider the case for upgrading your point-of-sale system. Having your employees use an outdated cash register with limited functionality slows them down, whereas having a cloud-based POS makes their job faster and easier and can enable them to get more things done. (Plus, using a sleek POS system feels much better than a clunky cash register).

The call to give workers more modern tools has been echoed by companies such as Intel. In a study on the effects mobile technology on employee productivity, Intel found that employees who were given a wireless notebook to work with gained nearly 100 hours of additional productivity per year.

See whether you can put this tip to work in your store. Look around for tools or equipment that are due for an upgrade and consider replacing them with something better.

7. Come up with the right incentives

Incentives can certainly help with motivation, but only if you choose the right ones. For some retailers, the right incentives could be sales commissions.

Roberta Perry at says that in her business, a 10% commission does really well in driving the performance of their sales associates.

“I pay $1 per hour over minimum wage, but then pay a full 10% of commission. We sell skin care and the average sale is $60. So every time they sell the average, they get $6, but how amazing that if they raise the sale they raise the salary,” she says.

“I just believe that I would rather have 90% of something than 100% of nothing. It not only has increased sales for the whole team but most definitely raised morale!”

If your business operates like Scrubz, then consider following a similar strategy.

But you should also remember that there are other ways to structure your incentives. As Stan Tan, digital marketing manager at Selby’s puts it, “Commissions would be the simplest form of incentive. However, that might not tie in with your company’s long-term goals on let’s say customer satisfaction.”

As an alternative, Stan recommends rewarding associates based on the purchase rate of your customers.

“For example, for every 100 customers served what % of them go on to purchase something? That incentives the sales rep to serve each customer properly and going above and beyond to ensure each customer they serve go on to purchase something,” Stan adds.

He also recommends giving bonuses in line with your Net Promoter Score (NPS), and that those bonuses should be given out to stores instead of individuals. “This ensures everyone works together to hit their target.”

Want to learn more about retail staffing?

Catch our on-demand webinar on retail hiring. In it, you will learn a proven, successful process that will exponentially reduce your number of bad hires and make your successful hires even better. You’ll get to know the “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer” system, a process that will lessen your staffing frustrations and help you become a hiring champion among all retailers – large and small.

Hope to see you there!

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