Kroger, the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., has teamed up with frontline employee training company Axonify to implement its Fresh Start program.
The program involves employees logging onto the Axonify app and engaging in daily training for three to five minutes each day. The app, which can be accessed through employees’ own mobile devices or through Kroger’s in-store Zebra devices, gives employees short, snappy training sessions that typically involve a video, with a question-and-answer section and a gaming activity.
The new program comes at a time when retailers are facing one of the tightest labor crunches to date. Retailers across the industry are having trouble filling open roles. The problem has many sources, including employees who were laid off earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic moving on to other industries.
To attract and retain employees, retailers are raising wages and adding new benefits. One convenience store chain, Rutter’s, has raised wages three times throughout the pandemic. Target has also issued several rounds of bonuses to its frontline employees, increased its starting wage to $15 per hour and started a new education benefits program to cover the costs of college. Walmart also recently offered new bonuses to its warehouse workers, as well as added a new benefits program to cover college costs.
"We recognize our labor market today is highly competitive," Senchal Murphy, senior director of human resources at Kroger, told Retail Leader. "Talent is selective and attracted to companies that offer attractive wages and benefits, have a clear purpose and culture and an opportunity to thrive."
Beyond wages and benefits, employee training programs are another important tool that Kroger is now tapping into. Keeping employees engaged on the job through training and education can ensure employees know what to do when they come to work, improving confidence.
“Our customers have seen an impact on their employee retention rates, and they can correlate the fact that employees stay longer when they’re more engaged on the Axonify platform than those who [aren’t engaged],” Christine Tutssel, co-founder and chief revenue officer, told Retail Leader.
Around 80% of employees in the retail sector will engage with the app about two to three times each week when they come to work, while Axonify’s best-on-class retail customers have 95% of their employees logging on every time they come to work.
The training is based on psychological data, leaning on retrieval practice to keep employees coming back to the app day after day and learning new information. When employees are asked questions during the short training modules, they learn even if they get an answer wrong. Coupled with the gaming aspect of the training, the app provides content that can help employees do a better job.
"When we think about the majority of our associates working in the frontline, the nature of the work they're doing is truly challenging," Murphy said. "Getting information and training to them quickly and consistently is really important. In the past we relied on … [traditional] elements, methods are slower for us, take longer to implement and take up a lot of associates’ time."
Retailers can also use the platform to send out consistent messaging through broadcast messages. For example, when introducing a new program or initiative, employees can view a message from their company’s executive team on the app. Kroger is rolling out the program, and its 300,000 associates will be able to use the app within the next month, Murphy said.
COVID-19 also changed the retail industry virtually overnight, particularly for grocers, which were considered an essential service over the last year and a half. Suddenly, employees were tasked with doing more—with added risks.
Axonify quickly added COVID-19-related content to its platform as grocery retailers were implementing new store standards to improve safety and sanitization.
“When covid hit a year and half ago, we immediately started to build safe work practices,” Tutssel said. “[From] hand washing to sanitizing, and we continue to build that content out. [We covered] purely sanitary things to do with COVID, but also mindfulness, mental health, remote work practices and all sorts of things that people have been struggling with through the pandemic.”
The new COVID-19 content is critical, but the platform also offers content that can help employees in their everyday roles. For example, some of the training may focus on best practices in the produce department, with a module showing employees how to handle bananas and grapes or how to turn lettuce to avoid shrinkage and improve presentation of the product.
Looking ahead, Axonify is currently building out more diversity and inclusion content as companies focus on these types of initiatives. The variety of content is also a major differentiator, as is the ability to access training on mobile devices. More retailers, including Walmart, are shifting to bring-your-own-device policies—a major change accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic that suits the kind of training Axonify provides, according to Tutsell.
In the current labor conditions, it is critical for retailers to invest in their employees to ensure they feel confident in their roles and engaged enough to stay.
“I can’t overemphasize how important it is to invest in the front-line to ensure they are properly trained,” Tutssel said. “If people know what to do when they come to work, they are going to be happier and more effective, and stay longer.”