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Retail communications: 12 strategies to win with employees and customers

Caption: Implementing good communication is key to retail business success
Credit: Tim Douglas / Pexels

Good communication in retail is absolutely key to maintaining staff morale and productivity, efficient team cooperation, customer satisfaction, and business success.

In fact, a landmark study by the Economist Intelligence Unit* found that poor workplace communication led 44% of the projects studied to remain unfinished, caused missed performance goals in 25% of cases, negatively affected employee morale in 31% of the cases, and even led to lost sales 18% of the time (some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars).

But taking time to implement good communication is no cakewalk. Training staff on how to communicate can be time-consuming and incredibly tough to do consistently across different areas of your business. 

Communication needs vary whether staff are talking to managers, each other, or customers; managing complaints, or simply updating stock levels. Simply saying “communicate more and better” won’t cut it.

That’s why we’re here to help, including tips on:

✔ What retail communication actually is

✔ Why good communication in retail is so essential

✔ How to improve internal communication in your team

✔ How to improve communication with customers

✔ The digital communication tools that make this easier, for better results in less time

Ready to start communicating like a true boss? Let’s do this.

*Study by The Economist Intelligence Unit, with Lucidchart, 2018.

What is retail communication?

Retail communication is the act of talking, messaging, or otherwise conversing within a retail business, whether between staff and customers, staff and colleagues, or staff and the management team. 

It can also describe how key processes are communicated, such as updating stock, time clocks, scheduling, and even the management of HR and staff happiness levels.

Why is communication in retail important?

Credit: Amina Filkins / Pexels

Communication in retail is important because it can have a major impact on a variety of business aspects both internally and externally — such as productivity, sales, retail operations, customer satisfaction, employee happiness, and productivity. 

According to the 2020 Connected culture research report — which looked at 4,000 workers across the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia — 71% of employees studied said that they tend to be more productive when they feel well-connected to, and communicate well with, their colleagues.

The report stated: “This study confirms what we suspected: connecting individuals with each other leads to better emotional wellbeing and productivity.”

This was especially true due to the extra emotional and economic upheaval caused by the pandemic, it said, and was relevant for remote teams as well as store teams that work in a physical location. 

This is encouraging for retail spaces, as it shows that good communication practices are impactful in any environment.

7 strategies to improve retail team communication

1. Use a communication app

Credit: Joinhomebase.com

Let’s be real: trying to implement excellent communication manually and consistently, whether by emails, clunky intranet, or complicated spreadsheets, will just make your life harder. And that makes good communication even more difficult to foster.

The solution? A specially-designed team communication app that everyone in the team can use to stay digitally in sync, even if they’re on the go. 

Most apps, such as Homebase, will work on smartphones as well as computers, and can help managers and staff communicate efficiently with little to no time-consuming manual messaging, easy-to-lose paper systems, or complicated spreadsheets.

Communication apps also go beyond simple messages, to create a real community. They can help you schedule friendly chats, introduce new team members to the group, boost morale, and share events or updates.

2. Keep employees up-to-date

On the subject of updates, keeping store employees informed and updated on major changes is central to building a solid team.

Not only does it ensure that everyone knows what’s happening and what’s expected of them (improving punctuality and commitment) but including staff in regular updates creates a transparent work culture that can help promote accountability, trust, and mutual respect.with 

No one likes being left out or being the last to hear something — and this applies whether you’re communicating a new system for timesheets, pay, or a larger shift within the company as a whole, such as a new product or business direction.

A 2022 study for HR Morning concluded that “employees are drawn to transparent organizations” and that 81% said they would be more likely to apply for a role if the company was transparent about important details such as the benefits and perks offered.

3. Tailor your communication style

Credit: Mentatdgt / Pexels

Be prepared to tailor your type of communication to individual employees for best results. Of course, almost everyone can adapt to using an app, but you can still personalize messages and 1-to-1 feedback to each individual employee.

This ensures that staff truly hear and understand what you’re saying, but is also likely to result in higher morale and improved productivity, as colleagues will appreciate your efforts to share details in a way that makes sense to them, and will respond better if they feel truly understood.

One way to improve this is to be specific. Rather than simply saying thanks, let an employee know exactly what you’re thanking them for, and the specific actions that you appreciated most.

Similarly, some employees will respond better to feedback if you begin with a positive first, while some will want you to be extra direct and give them feedback simply without any fluff. Getting to know your staff over 1-to-1 calls or meetings so you can learn what makes them tick, is crucial.

4. Respect employee time and schedules

Strong communication on everyday tasks such as scheduling and employee hours not only ensures that your retail workers are in the right place when you need them, but also shows that you respect their time. 

This makes it more likely that they will show up when they’re supposed to, and work productively when they do.

Using an automated communication app like Homebase enables you to share the latest schedule instantly to staff smartphones, and send alerts for changes. You can also enable workers to claim open shifts and empower them to cover and trade shifts without delay (you can simply approve the change).

The same system can also be used to enable staff to request time off, and lets you set shifts and timetables in advance so everyone is on the same page and can plan effectively. 

At Homebase, we conducted a study of more than 100 employees and found that when businesses published their schedule with only 1 to 3 days’ notice, turnover was at an average of 42%. In contrast, when businesses published their schedule with 8 days’ notice or more, turnover dropped to only 26%.

Including staff in your planning like this, and scheduling as early and predictably as possible, shows that you respect their time and personal lives, and also trust them to manage their schedule like adults.

5. Respect team structure

Treating staff with respect also extends to respecting team structure, as good communication also means knowing when more senior input is NOT needed.

Enabling or encouraging staff to go above their manager’s head when there are issues — or not respecting the processes already in place — can create distrust and a sense of instability among managers and staff, and can also lead to a feeling of micromanagement.

Encouraging staff to build good communication between themselves and their immediate managers helps team leaders stay informed of what’s going on and empowers them to solve problems for the entire team. This also builds rapport between staff and managers and fosters a positive team atmosphere.

6. Build a positive culture 

Credit: Kampus Production / Pexels

So much of good communication comes down to building a positive culture, where each employee feels valued, respected, and empowered, and your business feels like a good place to work. Not only is this a decent thing to do, but it is also likely to pay off in terms of less staff turnover, and higher productivity overall.

In addition to the steps we’ve covered above, implementing a few key changes and processes to purposefully build a positive culture can improve communication even more. 

After all, your staff are much more likely to be communicative, trustworthy, open, and helpful to colleagues if they genuinely like spending time with them and feel part of the group.

As the researcher and author Brené Brown wrote in her 2018 bestselling book Dare to Lead: “Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.”

Improving company culture also include:

  • Recognizing staff with public praise and personalized gifts (a group shout-out and a $10 book about the colleague’s favorite food, for example)
  • Remembering employee’s birthdays and other milestones to show that you see them as real human beings. Gift cards or even a complimentary day off cost little but mean a lot.
  • Seeing the employee as a human being first, staff member second. Check in with them even when you don’t have to, notice if they seem down, and respond with compassion first to problems such as lateness or lowered productivity.
  • Working with them to set goals that actually excite them and appeal to their interests. Recognizing their strengths will motivate them more, and make improvement more likely.
  • Giving them control over their day, such as letting them set the store playlist. Small things like this make a huge difference to the employee experience and how happy they feel at work.
  • Offering extras for wellbeing-related activities, such as time off on birthdays, paid leave for family events, mental health days, or discounted gym classes or therapy

7. Measure and improve happiness

Once you’ve spent time building a great company culture that fosters excellent communication, it’s important to maintain this success by measuring (and improving) this workplace happiness.

Dedicated communication apps like Homebase have employee happiness and culture baked into their functionality, including managing benefits, recognizing staff for good work, keeping track of milestones, colleague messaging, and feedback reports, to keep track of how your team is feeling day-to-day.

It can even deliver perks like early access to wages and manage time off requests, so everything concerning staff communication and happiness is in one easy-to-access, super-connected place.

5 ways to improve customer experience through better retail communication 

Good communication with customers is just as vital as with internal employees, whether they’ve made a purchase yet or not. 

With figures from Statista showing that the number of American consumers who shop online is set to rise from 263 million (80%) to 291.2 million by 2025, it’s never been more important to master real-life, in-store customer communication. Here’s how.

1. Build rapport 

Credit: Amina Filkins / Pexels

Studies show that 26% of customers will leave a store if they haven’t been served within five minutes, so the first role of good customer communication is to build rapport with the client upon entry.

This means making them feel welcome without overwhelming them, showing that you are happy to help if they need it, and helping them find what they’re looking for if they ask or appear lost. 

The goal here is to find a balance between appearing welcoming but not too pushy or salesy. Depending on your store, even a staff member approaching the customer with a friendly “Hello, please don’t hesitate to ask me if you need help”, could be enough.

2. Improve customer service

Good customer service isn’t just about what staff say. It’s also about judging what each customer needs. Some may welcome a more hands-off “just browsing” approach, while others may need and welcome a little more guidance or conversation. What works for one customer may not for the next. 

Staff need to judge this by noticing customer tone of voice and body language, and from that gauging what questions, if any, might help them find what they’re looking for. Are they looking for a gift, or something specific? Practicing role plays with staff is a good way to train this skill.

3. Listen to customers

Once a conversation has started with a customer, staff can improve the experience by practicing effective and active listening. Not only does this help a new customer, such as reading between the lines, making them feel heard, or suggesting things they might want even before they realize it, but it’s also crucial in the event of complaints or returns. 

Practicing active listening skills such as repeating or paraphrasing what the customer has said back to them, to check for understanding, is a key component of effective retail communication.

4. Resolve complaints quickly and effectively

Credit: Jopwell / Pexels

If a customer is making a complaint or has something negative to report, effective communication means accepting their complaint and working to resolve the issue as quickly and effectively as possible.

It’s important to train staff not to take the complaint personally and to use their active listening skills even in a more difficult situation. Empower your staff to have the authority to resolve minor issues or offer resolutions such as a gift card or no-questions-asked returns, and implement a process whereby the entire team can learn from a complaint.

Similarly, train managers to take ownership of complaints, and to both acknowledge the customer’s issue while also protecting and defending the employee. In this way, your retail company can learn from and resolve complaints without it damaging staff morale.

5. Take responsibility

A core tenet of good customer communication is accountability – that if you (or the company) do something wrong, or the customer highlights something negative, you take ownership of of the situation and apologize, acknowledge their complaint, and take action.

Although a complaint or negative issue may not be the fault of a single person, it’s still important that staff know how to take responsibility with humility and a can-do response. Even if the issue IS the fault of a single employee (or even the customer themselves), 99% of the time simply punishing, blaming, or speaking negatively to that employee or customer is unlikely to help. 

Managers trained in good communication should take on a “growth mindset”, which means mistakes are opportunities to see what went wrong and improve next time, turning a negative into a positive.

Recognize that everyone involved wants the same outcome: a satisfied customer. Reframing a complaint or negative issue into an opportunity to do better, rather than an adversarial confrontation between customer and colleague, helps your company take responsibility fairly and constructively.

How Homebase helps improve retail communication

Credit: Joinhomebase.com

Implementing good communication can feel like a LOT to do, on top of — well — actually running your business! That’s why using a dedicated retail communication mobile app like Homebase can make implementing these tips a lot easier, whether you’re managing staff on-site or remotely.

Homebase is specially designed to help you improve good communication as standard. Its communication features include: 

  • Scheduling and shift updates – For team coordination and respect for colleagues’ time
  • Time tracking and time off requests – For transparency and easy in-app management
  • In-app messaging – For colleague relationships and easy, friendly chatting
  • Groups for requests – To enable questions such as who has extra capacity or availability
  • Automated sharing – For keeping staff up-to-date with changes and events

It also has features that will help to improve company culture and boost effective communication.

  • Early access to wages – To respect staff and show them compassion if needed
  • In-app birthday and anniversary reminders – To create community and positive reinforcement
  • Integrations with point-of-sale tools and payroll – For a cohesive system that works

A dedicated communication platform like Homebase, which is specially designed for hourly work, helps you to bake in good communication into your retail business as standard, to let you get on with actually running the place.

Retail communication: A strategy for a thriving business

Good team communication will ultimately benefit both staff and customers, and lead to high morale, high retention, a great customer experience, repeat buyers, and a thriving business.

Harnessing the power of a specially-designed platform like Homebase helps you to centralize, streamline and simplify staff communication for better team culture, transparency, honesty, and employee engagement. 

Retail employees who are trained and encouraged to communicate healthily with each other and management will ultimately communicate better with customers too, leading to happier staff, happier and more loyal customers, and a thriving retail brand with a difference.

Retail communication FAQs

What are the best employee messaging apps?

The best employee messaging apps are those that encourage healthy, easy, and effective communication, as well as those that respect staff time, encourage transparency between management and employees, and enable everything from scheduling to time off to team birthday reminders.

Some of the most popular messaging apps for chats include Slack, and Microsoft Teams, while Discord can enable real-time audio conversations. However, Homebase is a dedicated team communication tool specially designed for hourly-based businesses, with employee messaging and far more, to build a strong culture and transparent messaging for both internal retail communication and with retail store customers.

What is a retail communication strategy?

A retail communication strategy is one that enables businesses to improve skills such as transparency, a supportive culture, active and effective listening, and good customer rapport, which ultimately leads to high staff morale and productivity, efficient team cooperation, customer satisfaction, and business success. A dedicated app such as Homebase can make a retail industry communication strategy a lot easier to implement.

How do you improve customer communication skills?

You can improve customer communication skills by training employees to build rapport with customers quickly, as soon as they walk through the doors. Noticing body language and taking cues from customers is crucial, as is active and attentive listening to what they really need and want. Resolving any complaints and taking responsibility for any issues is key, and seeing any errors as a chance to improve (rather than a moment for confrontation or blame) can help continually improve results.

How can Homebase help with team communication?

Homebase is a specially-designed communication app with features that bake in good communication from the start. As an app, it’s available for managers and staff on the go, to make communication of changes, scheduling, updates, and any other important messages as immediate, easy, and transparent as possible. This respects staff time and makes coordination and admin easy for managers, fostering a positive work environment. This translates to happy customers and a thriving, successful business.

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