Computerized Learning at CompUSA

In the competitive world of electronics and office supply retailing, companies need to make their resources widely available yet streamlined. CompUSA came to this realization in 1998 when it developed its first LMS. In the decade since, the company has re

In the competitive world of electronics and office supply retailing, companies need to make their resources as widely available yet streamlined as possible. This is certainly true in the area of learning management. If a company fails to manage learning in a way that’s innovative, proactive and flexible, it can end up throwing a lot of money at learning management and not accomplishing much in the process.

CompUSA came to this realization in 1998, when the company decided to partner with Creative Channel Services (CCS) to develop a learning management system. In the decade since, the company has reduced its training costs from more than $50 per unit to less than $1 per unit. CompUSA studies have shown a 10 percent sales lift for products featured in the program.

“As CompUSA started to grow as a company, we realized that doing on-site training was very costly and cost-prohibitive if you tried to get out to all the stores and do classroom or one-on-one training,” said Bill Maddox, executive vice president of business services. “Our LMS gave us an opportunity to develop an online learning platform that is cost-effective and can get a lot of information out to a lot of people in a short amount of time.”

Each one of CompUSA’s team members has access to an online portal through which they can use an internal LMS. Three terminals in each store are dedicated to team-member training. In addition, 180 of the company’s 229 stores are training centers that offer courses to external customers and clients. Those locations each have two or three rooms in which there are 13 computers that are also available to team members for learning.

Although CompUSA dedicates a fair amount of resources to training, it keep costs low by automating the process online as often as possible.

“Previously, it was costing a manufacturer about $10 a head to go out and train on-site, with all the costs involved in that,” Maddox said. “We reduced that down to $1 to $2 per head.”

Keeping track of compliance with training has increased, as well.

“With the online system, you can track people’s sign-ins, the amount of time they’re on and which training programs they’ve taken, so you can keep up with their certifications and make sure they’re qualified to sell different product categories and groups,” Maddox said. “When you have in-classroom training with a vendor coming in and doing training or using our human resources directors and trainers and going into our stores, the travel costs, keeping track of who’s taken the training and who hasn’t, is very difficult.”

45,000 SKUs
Through e-learning, CompUSA trains team members on the particulars of its products, customer service initiatives, and sales and loss-prevention techniques. Every new employee goes through a new-hire orientation using the LMS, as well.

Maddox said the bulk of the online training’s use is directed toward product knowledge.

“The customers that come into our stores expect us to have knowledge of the products we sell, and it’s very difficult to have everybody trained on the 45,000 SKUs that we have in our store,” Maddox said. “So, we give all of our team members a basic knowledge of all of the particular technologies. Then, for the top products in each of those categories, we give them fundamental training.”

He said CompUSA might rush out a learning module for a particular hot new product such as Vista or Blu-ray, depending on the amount of draw surrounding it.

Simply fostering team members’ general awareness of CompUSA’s products wouldn’t account for the 10 percent sales lift the company sees in those products featured in the online training — CompUSA also trains its employees to use an active approach to sales.

“We take team members through the actual sales process while they’re doing the learning,” Maddox said. “So, we talk about how you greet the customer and talk about the product, how you qualify the customer for this product, how to present the features, advantages and benefits of the product, what are the closing statements and how you answer objections about this product.”

CompUSA can train an infinite number of employees using its online team member training. The challenge is the number of products team members can feasibly learn during their time in the store.

“The amount of time that you take someone off the floor to do training is a concern and always has been for any retailer,” Maddox said. “So, the question is, ‘How do you expand the number of choices you have for training?’ Giving them an online option means they don’t have to be tied to a classroom, so they can take that training anytime they have access to a computer.

“If they’re in a lull time during the day, they can jump on a computer that’s out on the floor, as long as they have access to the Internet, and look at the site and do some training. If they have a break time, they can sit and do it then if they want to.”

Maddox said, though, employees do not always necessarily do that.

“Any time you put training out there, you’re balancing the need for training with the desire for the individuals to be trained,” he said. “We try to manage that through making the site exciting and being able to track what they’re doing.”

CompUSA has made the site more exciting in response to feedback from its team members.

“When we first started, it was very much of a click-and-read-type environment. Over time, we found that ‘click and read’ is not very entertaining,” Maddox said. “So, we’ve added some animation, we’ve added sound, videos and other fun functions, which maintain an acceptance rate that’s better than when it was just ‘click and read.’”

One Shoe Doesn’t Fit All
Tom Labadie, director of training and development, said that when CompUSA administered its training strictly though print documents, it had a staff of 15 people dedicated to training. Since switching to an LMS, the training staff has decreased to six, including himself.

“We used to have a full-time person that did nothing but go in and download progress reports,” Labadie said. “Now, it’s all automated, and any leader in the company who has admin rights can go in and click to see how many people have taken whatever module, how much time they spent on it and their average scores. So, it really takes a lot off our plates.”

In the future, Labadie said CompUSA plans to further customize the learning portal.

“We’ve had one-shoe-fits all for so many years, and with the specialization with different job positions in the store, as well as the corporate office, we find that a lot of the content didn’t really pertain to some of the people and wasn’t specific enough to drive the business,” Labadie said. “Like our business-to-business sales group — their customer is totally different than a walk-in retail customer. The product mix they have is totally different. So, we’re in the process of building them a portal that all their training will be on, so when they log in as a business salesperson, they go directly to content that’s specific for them.”

He also said the company will do the same for its tech services group and other departments. But as CompUSA expands its LMS portal, making it more specific to its individual positions and departments, it’s also striving to keep the system as simple as possible.

“That’s the big drive, creating a bigger portal but having navigation simple enough that people don’t have to have engineering degrees to find their way around inside,” Labadie said. “It’s gotten to where we’re exceeding 14,000 different training modules online where, when a person clicked in and everybody went to the same page, it was like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’”

Maddox said CompUSA managers enjoy using online team member training because it’s cost-effective and efficient. With this in mind, the company is expanding the portal beyond learning to include administrative tasks and performance management capabilities.

The company has established a performance management page, where team members can set goals online and get assessed against those through the year. It also offers benefit enrollment and a human resource section online, as well as accommodation pages for vendors that want to offer special purchases to CompUSA employees.

“It’s really taken it far beyond just putting a module up on the screen,” Labadie said.

– Daniel Margolis,