Kroger Loses Some Wait

Discussion
Sep 11, 2012

"The waiting is the hardest part."
– Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

While citing its focus on value and its loyalty program for delivering 35 consecutive quarters of positive identical supermarket sales, Kroger officials also pointed to its success in reducing checkout times.

On its second-quarter conference call, Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s president and chief operating officer, noted that checkout wait times have been reduced to an average of approximately 30 seconds. In the past, the average was as long as four minutes. Advertisements have been run across banners touting the ability to save time. Said Mr. McMullen, "Our customers tell us they noticed the difference, and we are delivering a shopping experience that makes them want to return."

Kroger appears to be particularly benefiting from its QueVision system, reportedly rolled out across banners last year. Employing sensors above checkout lanes as well as over the store’s entrance and exit, the system tells workers how many checkout lanes should be open immediately as well as how many should open up within 15 or 30 minutes.

An article in the Wall Street Journal late last year explored the many ways stores were seeking to reduce queue time, highlighting Apple’s use of hand-held tablets to ring up sales, Home Depot’s addition of mobile checkout, and the general increase in self-checkouts. Disney for the first time pre-scanned shoppers in line. Home Depot’s cashiers stood in front of registers to indicate they were open.

The article also found that consumers felt less stressed when there was an employee or an electronic screen near the front of the line to direct shoppers to the next open register. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Uniqlo and Nordstrom Rack employ this strategy.

Such strategies are also designed to reduce the "perception" around wait time. Envirosell, the retail consultancy, found shoppers’ estimate of wait times up to three minutes were highly accurate but wide over-estimates resulted after that. Mindful of this, Disney associates last year were trained to entertain customers with Disney trivia to reduce the waiting boredom.

Delving into the "perception" notion, an article last month in the New York Times, "Why Waiting Is Torture," pointed to how an unnamed airline made travelers take a longer route to the baggage carousel to reduce wait complaints. In the retail world, the article noted how "tabloids and packs of gum offer relief from the agony of waiting" in supermarket lines with such impulse items adding $5.5 billion to the industry annually.

While multi-queue setups move shoppers through lines quicker, the article found the "perception of fairness" drove wait irritation. Most fast food shoppers waited much longer in single ordering system lines because it didn’t violate the "first-come, first-serve" etiquette.

"The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away," wrote the author Alex Stone.

What are some obvious and less obvious ways for stores to manage checkout times? Should stores be working to lessen the “perception” around waiting in checkout lines as well as the actual time?

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16 Comments on "Kroger Loses Some Wait"

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Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 1 month ago

And once again we confront the whirligig of time bringing its revenges at checkout time. That being thus, let’s speed things up.

Dedication, such as is applied by Kroger, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and the human eyes of on-floor operators are hard to beat when comes to manning checkout lanes. Just do it!

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This is definitely a good move. Perceived experience is the real experience, no matter what reality is. In software development, eliminating a single click or touch is considered a substantial gain. 30 second wait times are probably the equivalent of cutting two clicks out of the cycle.

Technology is clearly going to have a positive impact on wait times and the reduction/elimination of queues. Today, it’s hard to predict which technologies will win out because it’s still emerging quite rapidly.

Tom Redd
Guest

Obvious ways to cut wait time:
– Enhance check-out teams expertise regarding special situations. Delays are caused when clerks do not know how to handle some special situations.
– Improve SKU labels. How many times have you been stuck in a line while they do a “price check”?

Less obvious:
– get the payment process started earlier — at start of checkout the clerk asks “how will you be paying” — just by asking the shopper starts to dig for the card, checkbook, etc.

Decrease the perception of delay: this is a must do. Many ways to do this, from videos to local news to touchscreen quiz games running on screens to music targeted within the checkout area.

The checkout process will always be a challenge as shoppers perceive that they have less and less time to shop.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

In my research on supermarket customer service, speed of checkout was a very important variable with mostly disappointing beliefs. The article and the references discuss a number of efforts both manual and technological.

One suggestion I offer is to link customer card data with dedicated check out lines. For example, knowing how much a heavy user customer spends on an average visit, combined with the customer’s average time spent shopping would allow direction to a dedicated checkout at a designated time. In effect, a combination of frequent flyer dedicated lines and the Disney Fast Pass.

We make reservations for everything else in life from tee times to restaurants to hair appointments. Why shouldn’t we be able to do the same when grocery shopping?

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
5 years 1 month ago

Technological solutions are great, and there is always the option of actually hiring enough associates to staff the checkout lines you have put in. In some stores it will no doubt take a sophisticated system to predict traffic and upcoming checkouts — in others it just takes a sharp store manager.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

The most irritating part of checkout wait times is the realization that four checkstands are open, and the other six are not. Trader Joe’s addresses this by having loads of employees available at all times. Will other grocers follow suit?

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

When we do our Kroger store analysis updates by individual store, one thing I notice is the increase in cash registers, mostly self service. In some stores nearly half of the existing registers are self-serve and all but one or two open are self serve.

Walmart in Canada does the queuing system of one big line and then directed to the next open register. This has the perception of a long line.

Marianos in Chicago pretty much just opens up all the registers. Every time I’ve been to one of those stores, there was no wait whatsoever. Realistically this is not sustainable over time.

Aldi has my favorite checkout. Real simple, lightning fast checkers, no coupons, no credit cards, no loyalty cards, no problems.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Nobody likes to wait — that is a fact of life — and wait times at supermarket checkouts can be frustrating. The most obvious solution is to open more registers as needed. Kroger’s QueVision system sounds like a great solution for this; I hope more supermarkets will begin to take advantage of similar systems.

Stores should work more on lessening the perception of waiting in checkout lines. Whole Foods is a great example of this at its NYC locations through the use of multiple queues and monitors that provide which register customers should proceed to. The constant motion provides the perception of less waiting time.

Jerome Schindler
Guest

Especially frustrating is waiting in line at a retailer (e.g. Meijer, Walmart) that has 20+ checkout stations but only 5 open. One wonders if there ever is a time when they use all those cash registers. Lowe’s and Home Depot have 8+, but I have never seen more than 4 open at any one time.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
5 years 1 month ago

I just read somewhere that someone calculated Walmart’s cashier labor cost at $12 million dollars a second. Long checkout wait has been a top 3 complaint for consumers for as long as I can remember (everywhere not just at Walmart). Improvements here are a win/win.

Despite a rather incremental pace of innovation historically, I expect retailers will create substantial improvements over the next couple of years. Improved sense and predict, as well as mobile are two technology solutions that show considerable promise.

Anne Marie Luthro
Guest
Anne Marie Luthro
5 years 1 month ago

People respond to people. Having acknowledgement from BOTH technology and a human will lessen anxiety and refocus “dead wait” times.

Herb Sorensen
BrainTrust
This is all good but needs to be seen in the much larger context of total time spent in the store. Imagine a salesman selling a car or house to someone. The buyer has completed their evaluation, and now wants to secure the purchase. For the house, typically, an earnest money agreement can be produced in minutes, and even for a several hundred thousand dollar purchase, the purchase can be secured in minutes. Only an idiot salesman would say to the buyer, well, let’s take some time to think about this. How about we wait till next Thursday to formalize the deal? And yet this is exactly the stupidity that is endemic, particularly in the self-service retailing world. I’ve been “preaching” on this subject for ten years, and still run into brands and retailers who want shoppers to “spend more time considering their purchase!” This is sales insanity founded on total ignorance of basic sales principles, such as, the faster you close on the sale, the more you will sell. After wasting beaucoup of the shoppers time anyway, too many retailers and brands land on the “brilliant” strategy of wasting even more of their time, in hopes they will buy… Read more »
Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
5 years 1 month ago

Length of line is an obvious perception issue. The long multi-queue lines can irritate shoppers at a couple of levels — plenty of time to think about whether to leave or not as they observe the empty check out stations, extra employees doing other tasks, etc. The stress on employees as they work to handle the overload and shopper complaints is costing everyone.

As well, there is still plenty of room for improvement in having correct codes on products — precious time wasted for price checks, waiting for a supervisor, etc. as everyone waits for a problem to be resolved.

Jerome Schindler
Guest

Thought I would mention this about “price checks” etc. Local Columbus, OH Kroger has a “scan right guarantee.” If it rings up wrong, it is free (max $5.00). More than once I have had a Kroger cashier who said they never knew about that policy. One said “Well, I have never heard of anything like that!” One wonders what training these cashiers receive.

Several other times I have had cashiers who attempted to just re-ring the item at the correct price until I called their attention to the Kroger scan right guarantee. All of this causes a delay at check out. I am skeptical that local store management is not aware of these practices — that they actually instruct the cashiers to act contrary to company policy in that regard.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
5 years 1 month ago

The issue is to simply ensure you are using the available technologies and processes available. Everything mentioned in the article is readily available and makes a huge difference. I also love the Target system where I can scan my credit card while the cashier is ringing me up and can therefore immediately leave when she hits ‘total’ because I’m already pre-approved. Great strides have been made. There is no excuse for slow checkouts.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

Please give shoppers a choice of checkout vehicles. More cashiers, great. Self-checkout, also great. And mobile checkout in some format in the future would be good too. But the variety give the shopper the ability to make a choice and have some say in the outcome.

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