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Will Target Canada Beat Walmart With Shorter Checkout Lines?

February 26, 2013

Americans hate waiting in line at retail stores. That being said, the biggest chain store in the land (Walmart) doesn't appear to have been hurt appreciably by operating checkouts with notoriously long waits. Still, if all other things are equal or at least pretty close to it, logic would dictate that Walmart could be vulnerable to competition that offers a quicker conclusion to shopping trips. That appears to be part of Target's strategy to appeal to Canadian consumers as it opens stores in that country.

According to a Financial Post report, Target began airing its first commercials in Canada during Sunday's Oscar telecast. A spot on the Target Canada website tells consumers what they can expect from shopping in its stores including "a short line... every time."


Discussion Questions:

How does Target's performance at moving guests through the checkout compare to Walmart's in the U.S.? Would shorter waits at checkout be enough for Target to capture sizeable numbers of Walmart shoppers in Canada?

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Instant Poll:

How does Target's performance at moving guests through the checkout compare to Walmart's in the U.S.?


Walmart has never had good service, but yet destroys all competition around them. It is the 8th weird wonder of the world, that the customers continue to put up with it, as many of their competitors do a much better job of serving their customers.

Perception is priceless for Walmart, and the lines will continue to be long, as their customers are true believers, that Walmart will always save them a ton of money. Go figure, but who wouldn't want that kind of following?

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Probably would NOT make a significant difference. Promising is one thing. Delivering is another. Walmart's queuing system in Canada really isn't that bad. If Target does deliver, it's because their customer count will be low. I'm not expecting too much from Target because of their poor choice in locations and because of their historical lower sales volume per unit versus Walmart. One hundred million dollar per year units are becoming the norm for Walmart, while that's an extreme rarity at Target.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

In my experience, Target isn't exactly a model of front-end efficiency. Walmart, of course, always seemed mobbed and the checkout experience is generally slow.

I don't think line speed is the primary issue here. The Walmart brand isn't based on high service and they manage to live up (or down) to expectations. Target doesn't seem to have the kind of labor economics in place you need to make sure the line time is cut to near zero either.

I think Target will need something just a tad bit more compelling to win the war.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Perception is reality. If Target is successful in creating the impression that lines are shorter (or non-existent), they'll see an uptick in traffic. What's worse than spending 40 minutes shopping, then waiting an additional 30 to pay? As someone said in a recent story, it can be easier for customers to steal things than to buy them....

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

I've been following Target's entry into Canada very closely, talking with several analysts and interviewing a few of the retailer's key executives there since the Zellers acquisition was announced two years ago.

While convenient check out and an overall comfortable shopping process are important to Target Canada's go-to-market strategy, the retailer is really focusing on product assortment, in-store merchandising, shopper engagement, promotions and pricing (pretty much in that order) to differentiate itself from Walmart Canada and other competitors.

A top point emphasized by Target Canada management is that the product and promotion mix and the merchandising sets will not be direct imports from the US, but will be "Canadian-centric."

Another is that the retailer is already making great use of social media to spread the word—Target Canada has more than 800,000 likes on Facebook and more than 40,000 followers on Twitter.

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Ron Margulis, Managing Director, RAM Communications

I don't have a scientific process or survey to cite for this question, but from personal experience, Target far outpaces Walmart with speedier checkouts. I seldom wait for more than one customer ahead of me in line at Target. However, the basket ring should be compared before we get carried away. Walmart supercenters' customer count and size of basket are much larger than Target's.

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

Picking shorter lines as a competitive advantage was probably research-based, but is it likely to drive a shift in shoppers' habits in Canada? Hard to tell. Target does outperform Walmart in terms of checkout efficiency in the U.S. but the long-term win in this segment goes to the store with the right content and pricing. And, speaking of long lines, has anybody shopped in a Costco recently? Their slow checkout process doesn't seem to be hurting their share gains.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Does waiting in line have the same negative values in Canada that it does in the U.S.? Are shorter lines really the reason shoppers in the U.S. choose Target over Walmart? Why are shorter lines the best way to lure Canadian shoppers? That seems like a strange claim to use when trying to best your best foot forward in an introduction to a new market.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Target moves guests through checkouts faster than Walmart primarily because they have less traffic. Yet both companies are successful for different reasons: Walmart price vs. Target style. And as results reveal, there are more people into price than style. Yet both customer pools can sustain both companies.

In Canada, Target Style and faster checkout service will not capture sizable numbers of price-devoted Canadians. There are just too many folks up north, like down here in the south, who hold price in greatest esteem. Target will need more "style" than speed to succeed up in the tundra region.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

We have done quite a bit of research on shopper attitudes and behavior at the retail checkout. Our Front-end Focus research has been widely referenced.

Many shoppers do complain about the lines at Walmart checkouts but continue to shop there anyway because of their low prices. A shorter line is certainly preferable but is only one part of the equation.

Our research does show that the checkout experience has a major impact on the overall shopper satisfaction with the store. The checkout experience includes wait time, but also a choice of payment, ease of transaction, privacy, availability of impulse items, quality of bagging, and even the attitude of the checker.

Importantly, it is actually the perception of wait time that matters, not the actual time. For example, shoppers perceive less wait time when they are distracted by their favorite magazine or a TV monitor.

We certainly should applaud the efforts of any retailer to improve their performance at checkout, but they need to address the broader issues to be successful.

Raymond D. Jones, Managing Director, Dechert-Hampe & Co.

We all hate to wait in lines. But the idea that one factor in the total customer experience will win the day with most consumers is unrealistic. As Raymond Jones points out above, it's an equation. An equation with a tremendous number of variables (some rational, some emotional). Certainly long checkout lines can negatively impact sales, but so do dirty aisles, poorly lighted parking lots, inadequate selection, lack of freshness in produce, poor attitude of staff, offering limited payment methods, too few available shopping carts, and dozens and dozens of additional factors, including price.

I continue to read that consumers rate Costco to be among the best retailers in America, yet several minutes wait in the checkout line is a standard for most Costco stores. Similarly we pay a high admission price, stand in very long lines, and still return in record numbers to Disney World. It must be more complicated than length of lines.

Many of us don't like mathematical formulas, but the question here really is a Value Equation. Each consumer has a set of expectations for each brand, uses "data" they've picked up in previous shopping experiences, makes decisions about what is most valuable and important to them, determines what we can afford, and makes tradeoffs.

Doug Pruden, Principal, CustomerExperiencePartners.com

I shop Walmart, but a lot less than if the lines were shorter. I remember the days 20 years ago when Walmart had short lines.

To me, I don't know how it is so clear to everyone that in spite of Walmart's long lines that people still shop Walmart. Sure some must, but if Walmart ever wants to try expanding the demographic profile to more affluent shoppers, it has to ultimately FIX the long lines and it will take a long time for news to get around.

Off point but another observation, Walmart used to have the highest 'in stock' position, but once again, based on my trips that's no longer the case. One small example: the 2025 watch battery. Three trips to Walmart over 4 weeks, never had it in stock. I finally opted for Amazon; got 3 for the same price as 2 at Walmart, free shipping, no tax. Walmart has now lost that sale forever.

So how many lost sales does Walmart have from long lines, reduced SKUs and lower 'in stock' positions? I guess there's a Green Eye Shade somewhere in Bentonville that figures all is well but I believe there must be a better balance for the long term.


Target moves guests more quickly than Walmart; the front end operations are closely monitored and assist guests. Walmart's checkout experience in Canada is long; very long during peak periods. Shorter waits at Target would enhance the experience, but Canadians are value driven and there are many retailers in close proximity in urban/suburban areas.

Target's assortment and pricing strategy are critical to success here—adding Canadian Roots fashion/accessories is a good move. As well, food selections may gain traction with Canadian consumers and the many resident Americans who won't have to drive to Buffalo for favorite items.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

Of course Americans hate lines, we walk in eternal sunshine; but why would Canadians be in a hurry to check and get back outside when it's double-digits below zero most of the year?
Okay, okay, I'll set my snark aside; when I was in school we were told you could give an amount, or a date, but should never give both at the same time; this seems to violate that rule since it has an amount ("short") and a date ("always")...they may live to regret this promise.


Not based on an any scientific research, but simply on personal observation, I would say that Target outpaces Walmart at checkout speed, at least in the markets I have visited in the U.S. Many times at WalMart, finding someone to check you out can even take additional time or you may have to choose the self-check. Target always seems to monitor lane depth and adjust when a certain threshold is reached. Having said all that, whether or not this is a compelling differentiator in Canada remains to be seen.

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Brian Numainville, Principal, The Retail Feedback Group

Great concept. This is customer service where many consumers hate it the most...at the checkstand. How much this means in order for Target to capture sizable amounts of market share will remain to be seen over time. Walmart continues to thrive despite their continued poor customer service.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

Walmart Canada has been focusing on the front-end customer experience for some time. It has successfully implemented Express Lanes and electronic queuing using single lines in hundreds of stores. Both customers and employees have reported increases in customer satisfaction due to the checkout experience.

Target's promise of "a short line... every time" can easily backfire. Short doesn't necessarily mean fast. There is nothing worse than being next in line behind a customer who is taking forever, and seeing other lines around you moving quickly. Single-line queuing, when implemented properly, can have a profound impact on both actual and perceived wait times.

In the end, if Target's biggest difference is a short line, they will have a hard time convincing large numbers of Walmart Canada shoppers to make the switch.

Perry Kuklin, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Lavi Industries

Walmart has already experimented with mobile point of sale in the UK and the US. It will be just a matter of time until they start in Canada that will significantly lower the wait time. Shorter wait time is surely a differentiator, but not enough to compete just on that.

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Shilpa Rao, Practice Head - Merchandising, Tata Consultancy Services

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