The challenges of 2020 have forced us all to become adept at Zoom and Teams. However, according to Bill Miller, MD of the Kitchen Bathroom Buying Group (KBBG), the many advantages that virtual training and consultations now offer retailers are all worth hanging onto for the future.
"The last 12 months have significantly changed so much of our personal and business lives. The independent retail sector has faced huge challenges, but has shown itself to be resilient and adaptable, working within an ever-changing consumer and supplier environment. The independent business model is all about relationships, both with customers and suppliers that have historically been based on face-to-face meetings. So, the need to move to only virtual meetings, has been a new skill that independent retailers have had to learn very quickly.
"It was noticeable that during the first lockdown, many of our retail members asked for help in setting-up and using the various virtual meeting platforms such as Teams or Zoom. Twelve months on, our members are confident and skilled in using these programmes, and our sales data clearly shows that plenty of kitchen and bathroom sales were made during the last lockdown aided by virtual meetings.
"In addition to communicating with clients, many of our members have also used the periods of lockdown to attend many of the supplier online training sessions. The KBBG ran a number of supplier webinars that were all very well received and attended. These sessions improved product knowledge, gave product updates and introduced new product ranges. We learnt that training sessions should be no more than 45 to 60 minutes in length, if they are longer, then it is difficult to keep everyone’s attention. It is better to run two shorter sessions, rather than one long one with the danger of your audience dropping off the virtual meeting half-way through.
"Based upon this success, is online virtual training here to stay? I would say, yes, but probably as part of a larger process that also includes face-to-face interaction, as well as online. The most effective and enjoyable way to learn is still working as part of a physical team. Many suppliers regularly revise their product ranges, so virtual training is an easy and cost-effective way of keeping their customers updated. The more a retailer knows about a particular product, the more confident they will be when it comes to selling. So, in future, rather than having to arrange an expensive product launch, and their retailers having to take time away from their businesses, some product launches and introductions could be better done virtually. For larger product launches, a traditional physical event may still be the most effective method, but this could be supplemented by a virtual presentation for those customers who are unable to attend.
"It's not just retailers who can benefit from the move to online product training. One of our appliance suppliers is about to launch a free virtual product familiarisation session, aimed at the end-user who has recently purchased their appliances. An experienced product trainer will meet the end user online and explain how to get the best from their new appliances. It will be interesting to see how well this is accepted and the take-up rate. Without doubt virtual training, both for retailers and their customers, is here to stay."