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EXCLUSIVE: Circle K leverages iPads, games for in-store training

Sue Vandersall
Sue Vandersall, senior VP of global talent development, Circle K.

A global convenience retailer is replacing traditional store associate training methods.

Sue Vandersall, Circle K senior VP of global talent development, recently sat down with Chain Store Age to discuss the retailer’s new training approach, known as “My Journey.”

My Journey leverages gamified training software, delivered via in-store iPads, designed to get new hires learning on the floor in the flow of work to help retain them beyond the six-month mark. Circle K aims to save millions of dollars in annual training costs with this approach.

Other high-tech initiatives Circle K is pursuing include implementing Relex AI- and machine learning (ML)- based supply chain and retail planning solutions across its Circle K and Couche-Tard locations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as deploying autonomous checkout technology.

What made Circle K decide it needed iPad-based, gamified employee training?

We decided on a game-based training solution to create an engaging learning experience that connects associates with Circle K’s mission and values from their first day. 

Our training core must align with our mission: to make our customers' lives a little easier every day. Given the wide range of skills required to achieve this, we needed a platform that could help our staff develop the necessary capabilities and confidence to deliver outstanding customer service. 

Traditional learning methods proved ineffective in achieving our desired customer experience, which negatively impacted new-hire retention. To address this, we partnered with Attensi to design a comprehensive learning solution that would manage the training process from onboarding to ongoing development and mastery of core skills and functions within our business.

How did you develop the My Journey solution?

Our primary goals were employee engagement and retention. We started by identifying challenges and operational gaps to develop a training strategy supporting these goals. 

Working closely with Attensi, we crafted a solution to deliver a large amount of information in an engaging, digestible, and measurable way. Our game-based training addresses onboarding struggles in Europe and the U.S.

Effective onboarding is crucial. High engagement levels, where new employees enjoy and benefit from the training, lead to happier teams, satisfied customers, and higher retention. Poor onboarding risks a quick end to the associate learning journey. The versatility of game-based training allows individuals to engage with content in various ways.

Circle K analysis shows that the first three to six months are critical for new employee retention. To address this, we replaced traditional training manuals with engaging, familiar training styles accessible on various devices, including in-store tablets and mobile phones.

We developed programs covering a wide range of core skills, from food handling and hygiene to restocking, fuel safety, and customer interactions. These comprehensive programs support and engage new recruits, helping ensure they enjoy the process. 

This hands-on approach allows trainees to engage in real-life activities, building their confidence and preparing them for the job. Integrating our game-based training with our current HR tech, such as Workday, ensures measurability.

In addition, managers play a critical role in this onboarding process, supporting trainees as they practice and improve at their own pace on mobile devices.  Partnering with Attensi for several years, we have developed solutions covering various skills and knowledge gaps. 

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How have employees responded?

Globally, the solution has been rolled out to 85,000 Circle K associates, including over 65,000 in North America. We closely monitor how the training is received in terms of proficiency and overall experience.

Associates have responded positively to the game-based training solutions. In a survey, 85% of respondents felt 75-100% more prepared for their role after completing onboarding, and 91% preferred this training method over conventional e-learning. Employees not only complete the modules but also return to them, indicating high engagement and contributing to skill mastery.

What corporate benefits has Circle K received?

The first clear benefit, especially for managing employee experience at scale, is consistency. Brand messaging and standards are delivered uniformly and measurably. We know what material is being shown and can track where knowledge gaps are closing. 

This is particularly valuable for operational leaders and district managers overseeing multiple sites who may not have the opportunity for in-depth time with store managers.

Retention has been another significant benefit, especially in our U.S. market. Customer service excellence is another benefit, and standing out in the competitive talent pool is crucial. We face many options for associates in the convenience retail industry, so enhancing the employee experience puts us a step ahead in a restricted workforce.

Are there any future training plans you can discuss?

We are excited to expand this program and continue rolling it out to our international sites. Given Circle K’s global scale, we need to deliver game-based learning content in-house and adapt it to address the most pressing business challenges. 

Partnering with Attensi, we can create and deploy game-based learning content ourselves in real time. In the fast-paced retail environment, this capability provides us with a significant competitive advantage.


Editor’s Note: Circle K is a subsidiary of Alimentation Couche-Tard, which operates in 29 countries and territories. With its Couche-Tard and Circle K banners, it is one of the largest independent convenience store operators in the U.S

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