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[24 comments]

Walmart makes 'The Checkout Promise'

August 20, 2014

Heralding it as "The Checkout Promise," Walmart has pledged to keep every register open during peak shopping hours during the upcoming holiday selling period.

"Our customers told us they want to get out of the store quickly," said Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart's chief merchandising officer, recently at the 2014 Walmart U.S. Holiday Meeting. "So what do we do? We're going to open more registers than ever before. Our customers who are shopping the most, we need to get them out of our stores faster. We call this 'The Checkout Promise.'"

The pledge pertains to every supercenter and larger-box general merchandise location. Every register is promised to be staffed on the weekends between Black Friday and Christmas as well as the final days leading up to Christmas. Concluded Mr. Mac Naughton, "It's what our customers want, it's what we're going to deliver."

The 29-second portion of Mr. Mac Naughton's speech pertaining to "The Checkout Promise" was posted as a video on the public relations section of Walmart's website.

[Image: Duncan Mac Naughton]

The changes come as Walmart last week reported its seventh straight quarter of declining traffic in the U.S. In addition to price investments, Walmart officials said on its second-quarter conference call that the company had allocated additional associate hours to specific areas of the store, such as front end, deli, bakery, and overnight stocking to improve overall customer service.

Walmart has received more criticism lately for its inventory shortages that it vowed earlier this year to improve. But its reputation for checkouts has also been poor. In 2012, it linked its poor image among some shoppers partly to complaints about its long checkout times.

Part of the problem, however, is perception. Walmart's supercenters have around 30 registers, generally about half as many as rival Target and much fewer than a number of other competitors. Frustration appears to mount higher when shoppers see unstaffed registers. Several internet blog posts question why it's common to see only four or five registers open at a time.

"We feel good about price and having the top gifts of the season, so the next priority is about getting customers in and out of the stores quickly," Mr. Mac Naughton told Reuters. "Taking the possibility of waiting in long lines off the table will attract more people into stores."

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:WMT] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

How much of a benefit will Walmart receive from its efforts to keep its cash registers fully staffed during peak holiday selling times? Is there a better solution versus possibly having numerous idle cashiers waiting for shoppers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How much of a benefit will Walmart receive from its "The Checkout Promise" pledge?

Comments:

Sounds too good to be true. However, as the holiday season approaches there is a lot more product to display and mark down each and every day. So cashiers can be used to do other things and called to their register as the traffic builds during the day. It could work, and if anyone can make it happen again it is the powerhouse we know as Walmart.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

It seems like a good idea, but I'd say it is a bit of an empty promise in that nothing happens if they don't live up to it. Seems kind of like a "duh" moment to have the stores better staffed at the holidays, but mega-retailers like Walmart and Target are having to take a step back and focus on the basics this year—keep the stores staffed and stay open!

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Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire.com

Consumers don't like to wait. Walmart is addressing the issue by promising to keep all registers staffed during the holiday. This, along with their price match guarantee could help drive customers into their stores. The question is whether or not this will have an impact on consumers during the other 11 months of the year.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Not a big positive benefit from having them open, but a big non-negative benefit. People won't be complaining about Walmart for long lines/closed registers.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

I just saw this "breakthrough" in Walmart's thinking on CNN! On CNN!

I'm no retail expert, but don't store managers keep their eye on the customer line-ups at the checkout? Don't they have the power to get more cashiers to their posts when they need to? Why on earth does this make the national news as though its impact on humanity is just slightly below solving world hunger? If this is the forefront of Walmart's innovation I'll wait for the "Going out of Business" sale.

And for goodness sakes, when will we stop with declaring that the store's major goal (or in Walmart's case its "Promise") is to "get them out of our stores faster." At least Mac Naughton didn't say "those people" instead of "them" though he might as well have. This is another way of saying "We don't want you in here, please leave!"

Changing the language to a matter of providing better and faster service is much more welcoming, don't you think? Dear customer: shop for five minutes or shop for five hours—you're going to get the best service we can possibly provide.

Years ago, I told a restaurant client to take down their "Please Wait to be Seated" sign (why would you tell a customer who wants to give you their money to wait?) and replace it with "Please Let Us Seat You at the Best Available Table." Words are important, Mr. Mac Naughton.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Walmart isn't going to lose, and I doubt gain, any customers during the peak holiday selling season with fully-staffed checkout aisles. If Walmart's sales plans are sizzling and dynamic, the checkouts should be fully manned anyway. This is excellent PR but it's like giving away a sleeve out of a vest.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

Some, but not sure how big a game changer this is. Obviously speeding customers through checkout is a high value-add, but it all depends on the shopper-to-register ratio as this should add costs for Walmart. Be interesting to see how this plays out.

Walmart recently increased its self-checkout capacity, so it will be interesting to see if the number of lanes with self checkout increases, stays the same or declines. Walmart also tested the ability to use one's iPhone to check out, but I haven't heard much about this lately, so am assuming it didn't stick with consumers.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

It's an idea that's way overdue. I hate waiting in lines anywhere: grocery or Walmart or department stores. Why aren't there more cashiers and faster checkout, I ask? I hope that other customers, like me, feel the same, and in this case, will bring more business to Walmart for making this special arrangement that says, "I value and respect you as a customer."

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

  1. I will believe it when I see it. Proof is in the action, not the words.
  2. Don't only cover Saturday and Sunday and the week before Christmas.
  3. I shop at different hours and will still have a problem.

A separate point, not just are the registers open but how fast is the checkout. I'd love to see a contest between Costco checkout and Sam's.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

I,for one, am skeptical, as Walmart, and even the much-worse Sam's Club, are not known for quick checkouts. It costs money to do this, and we'll see how this goes, as all of us in business need to watch our dollars. Perhaps if the airport lines could get better, then we will know anyone can do it, as traveling is now a nightmare of epic proportions.

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

There are at least two issues associated with this pledge:

  1. There has to be enough merchandise on the shelves to facilitate shoppers going to a register.
  2. The local stores have to be aware and abide by this pledge. Based on past and even recent experiences, I don't see this happening. And, by the way, by the time the holiday shopping season gets here every other big box retailer will be making the same pledge.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

This sounds like a hard promise to keep. I think Walmart will have to change the parameters of the promise and the parameters of the definition of what peak holiday selling times are. Where will they find enough labor to staff the checkouts? Many of these Supercenters have 28 to 37 checkouts. How will they be able to staff checkouts in markets with huge labor shortages such as west Texas?

I saw A&P try this and what they did is the had all the checkouts open, but they didn't have anyone behind the register. This could be the case at Walmart because of the "no show" factor with employees.

By the way, I believe Target has about half as many checkouts as Walmart. The typical Target Fresh has about 14 to 16 checkouts. The typical Super Target has 24 to 26.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

A few years ago, Kroger in central Ohio made a big advertising push claiming that every checkout would be open between certain hours (e.g., 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.). Well, that often didn't happen. When confronting the manager the excuses were that people didn't show up for work, were on break, etc. I complained to the BBB. The BBB gave them a pass. Then it happened again, and again I wrote the BBB. This time Kroger folded—ended the claim. My point was that if you can't keep the promise, don't make it. Not only is it a consumer issue, it is also unfair to their competitors to make such a false claim. I will be visiting my local Walmart to observe how they are doing.

'schindler'

Percy: you think "Please Wait To Be Seated" was bad? Years ago a central Ohio Chevy dealer had this sign at their service desk: "We Don't Have Loaner Cars, So Don't Ask!"

Jerome Schindler, Counsel, Imported Foods

Didn't some retailer out there have a "three person in line" rule about opening up more registers? As in, if a line to checkout exceeded three, they opened more lanes? Following something like that seems smart enough, and all-year round, not just at Christmas. Some retailers seem amazed that sales go up when they do simple things like add extra inventory, or add more staff.

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Peter J. Charness, SVP America, Global CMO, TXT Group

When one of the major box stores first came to St. Louis (where I live), the public feedback was that there were long check-out lines. The store immediately started advertising a promise to keep lines under five minutes. I gave them a try, and they were true to their word.

I don't think it matters if every cash register is open or not at Walmart. What matters is what the customer will experience. When I watch a commercial about taking a vacation to Hawaii, they sell the destination, which is about palm trees and an ocean. They don't sell me by telling me about how many seats are on the plane that will get me there.

Walmart should take the position that they'll open as many registers necessary to keep your wait down to five minutes, or whatever time they think is reasonable. I don't care if that means two or ten registers are open.

In other words, sell me the experience, not the method behind the experience.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Seems like a no brainer that every reputable retailer would be trying to make sure that they can meet the checkout demands of their customers especially during the Holidays. If they really want to do it right, they should have also addressed line-buster POS and other alternative checkout processes.

And that's my 2 cents!

Lee Kent, Let's meet share and succeed in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

I really have to laugh at this one! So ... let me get this straight ... Walmart has been consistently under serving and under staffing stores for years, making for a miserable shopping experience, driving consumers away ... but wait!!! During the holidays, we will act like we care so we can get more of your money... then slip right back into the miserable service you have come to expect from us.... Walmart is fundamentally broken. I doubt that they have the internal will, or internal culture to be capable of making the radical changes needed. They are struggling to manage the chronic OOS situation, what hope do they have of managing this?

James manson, Sales executive, JM Corp

One of my Laws of Retail is never make the customer wait to pay.

Perfection in this ideal is of course impossible, but it's an aspiration all should aim for, at all times of the year.

Walmart's declaration is an affirmation that it cares about this aspect of the customer experience. Like some others commenting here, I wonder why the checkout promise is confined to the holidays.

At the peak moments of store traffic, it's likely that all registers will be kept busy. Adding baggers to assist may help checkout velocity and help lines move faster. Those folks at least can return to re-stocking duties at other moments.

Walmart may succeed at squeezing out a few more transactions if it gains a reputation for being a less frustrating place to shop. Hence the public announcement and PR push, I suspect. Share of wallet is the goal. A small increment in many stores may add up to real money.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Better service at the point of sale will have benefit for Walmart.

The question really is, why would a retailer not have all possible checkout lanes open if there are people waiting to buy products?' This seems like a pretty basic retail business rule. Take the money when the shopper is ready to pay and don't ruin the shopping experience at its final step.

What this looks like is some good pre-holiday PR to address past complaints of shoppers about closed lanes. And if you are going to staff to the level of "all registers open" then you might as well get the news out and optimize the investment.

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Larry Negrich, Vice President, Marketing, nGage Labs

This is so wonderful. Walmart, after decades in business, has discovered that peak seasons need peak staffing. How will anyone else be able to survive this competitive onslaught?
This is such an earth shattering concept. Lots of traffic might need open cash registers. A logistical and executional tour de force of keen insight. The mind reels.

So the registers will be fully staffed by the same people who couldn't figure out crowd control when they opened the doors in past years....

More stories can be written now and held for publication in December about the miserable and abusive scheduling of work at weekends and in the dark of night on Black Friday....

And I suspect the shelves will still be stripped, the aisles crowded, and the registers overwhelmed because there aren't enough of them in the first place,and the front end is totally inadequate for space at the holidays under any circumstances.

But I won't notice. I do my shopping online.

'RetailSeer'

I definitely think Walmart will see the benefit, at least from a customer experience point of view. The announcement is good PR and I do hope Walmart is able to keep its promise. Shoppers seek and deserve better checkout times as checkout times are a very important part of the shopping experience.

There are solutions out there using analytics to optimize staffing and waiting times, self-checkout options, and mobile self-checkout options. Some of the self-checkout options may not work for all types of shoppers.

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Mihir Kittur, Co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer, Ugam

Sounds like a complete no-brainer, but it also sounds like it is one of those principles of good retail business that may get sacrificed due to pressure to make margins.

Needless to say, Walmart has to ensure they have product for shoppers before they even get to the cash register. Assuming they address that issue, then enabling shoppers to to process their purchases more quickly will definitely increase satisfaction.

Will it be enough to move the needle on sales during the holiday season? I doubt it, as I suspect that most shoppers who go to Walmart are doing so based on a belief they will get the lowest price there, and that is what will ultimately have them decide which store to shop at. I get shoppers' frustration at seeing unstaffed registers; for Walmart, they key question is how many shoppers are leaving the store because they are tired of waiting for their purchase to get processed, as opposed to because Walmart does not have the lowest price, or does not have the product in stock. Don't get me wrong: I would certainly want my purchase processed as quickly as possible, but Walmart needs to prioritize their investments and attention based on what is most driving shopper defection.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

I always wondered why stores like Walmart paid for and installed 30-40 registers in a store when I have never seen more than 10 or so open at a time!

Having more registers open is a start. Hiring employees that have a good attitude and realize that they are there to help and serve customers rather than chat with their co-workers or check their cell phones would be high on my priority list.

While Walmart touts their low prices as a draw, just because they are discounting their merchandise doesn't mean they should discount the experience they are providing to their customers!

randi busse, president, workforce development group

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