The biggest development in cashier training in the 1990s has been interactive multimedia software. Retailers who have adopted computer-based training note that it has supplanted workbooks and manuals as tools to teach front-end clerks how to keep customers moving through checkout lines quickly and efficiently.
The supermarket industry is just at the beginning of its growth curve in CBT usage, retailers and consultants told SN. As many as two-thirds of the nation's retailers do not use CBT programs, and those that do have only used them for a few years.
Further growth is likely, however, as computer hardware costs continue to fall and retailers take advantage of the Internet or their own intranets to distribute CBT modules to their stores.
Companies that use this method have been able to slash training costs, offer consistent instruction and reduce the time it takes to bring cashiers and other employees up to speed.
"CBT is the best thing that's happened to the industry in a long time," said Tom Roesener, vice president of store operations/store development at Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., which took the CBT plunge earlier this year. "I can't describe how excited we are about it."
Although he declined to quantify the improvements, Roesener said CBT has already resulted in savings on training time and decreased employee turnover. Moreover, managers have noticed a significant increase in the amount of information employees remember after their CBT sessions.
While CBT has customarily been used only by large chains seeking a consistent training message in far-flung stores, CBT got a big boost recently when three of the nation's largest wholesalers struck deals to offer CBT software titles at more affordable prices to small- and medium-size retailers.
Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City; Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis; and Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., all agreed this year to sell a library of CBT titles to the retailers they service.
Serving a combined total of about 5,700 food retailers, the wholesalers' deals promise to increase CBT's penetration throughout the supermarket industry during the next few years. Nash Finch predicts all of the 2,250 supermarkets it serves will have access to CBT within five years.
Typically, CBT modules are contained on CD-ROMs and are run on stand-alone machines located at the store or at a centralized training center.
In the future, Internet and intranet technology is expected to allow PC users at the stores to access CBT titles from a central information systems site, sources involved in CBT development say. Employees' scores would be retained and reviewed by specialists at the server location.
"Think of it as a mailbox," explained Duane Lubbers, manager of training and development at Nash Finch. "Right now, you have to have a CD-ROM in the unit you're using. In the future, the CD-ROM will be at a central location and multiple users at the stores can access it" through their PCs.
The client-server technology would allow training personnel to more easily make "on-the-fly" changes to CBT programs, Lubbers said. In addition, a server-driven approach would allow better administration of an expanding library of training titles, each of which is normally contained on its own CD-ROM.
Although PC-based training seems better suited to young workers who have grown up with computers, many training specialists report that older cashiers are also giving CBT glowing reviews.
Food Emporium, a banner of A&P, Montvale, N.J., last year opened a special training center for Manhattan residents age 55 and older. The training program, operated in conjunction with the New York Department for the Aging, puts workers through CBT paces for 10 weeks before graduating them to employment at A&P banner stores in the area.
Clemens Markets' Roesener noted that some of the regional chain's older cashiers have been so enamored with their exposure to computers through the CBT program that they've purchased their own PCs for home use.
"We thought the young ones would like it, but it turns out the seniors love it too," Roesener said. "It's a non-intimidating way for them to be introduced to computers."