Long Lines Gets Shoppers PO’d

Discussion
Dec 21, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Of all the things consumers hate about shopping, waiting in line at the checkout may be just about the worst. Even shoppers who have spent a considerable time in the store have
been known to abandon carts and walk out if they feel as though they are not moving quickly enough through checkout.

According to Paco Underhill, retail analyst and author of Why We Buy and Call of the Mall, consumers lose perspective of how much time they’ve actually spent waiting
to check out once the five-minute mark has been reached.

“It’s really amazing how time is inflated when people are frustrated,” he told The Tennessean.

Some retailers have gone to self-checkouts as a means to “speed” consumers through the last stage of the shopping trip. Here too, the time-savings consumers feel they achieve
is inflated, said Greg Buzek, president of IHL Consulting Group.

According to Mr. Buzek, his company’s studies have shown that cashiers get shoppers checked out faster when they do it themselves. The benefit of self-checkouts is that, by keeping
shoppers busy, customers develop the perception that they’re getting checked out faster.

Other stores, such as Apple Computer, have tried to speed the checkout process by equipping sales floor staff with hand-held devices that allow them to scan a customer’s credit
card on the spot. A local Apple Store in the Nashville area says it processed 20 percent of its store transactions through these devices.

The store’s manager, Jeanne Brock said, “I think it (the hand-held devices) will help sales. If someone sees a long line, they might put their stuff down and walk out.”

Moderator’s Comment: Which retailers are doing the most effective job of making customers happy at the checkout? How are they achieving their results?

George Anderson – Moderator

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14 Comments on "Long Lines Gets Shoppers PO’d"


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Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 2 months ago
I am not an expert in store operations, so these thoughts are my personal observations, along with the work I’ve done for QSR clients. Wait time in line needs to be a focal point of on-floor management in order for sustainable gains to be made in improving the customer’s experience. Effective forecasting can provide as much labor as is profitable in the time periods it appears as if it will be needed. Management makes sure the labor is focused on customer service during those times. Remember, forecasting customer arrivals is a poison distribution, and while it can be relatively accurate to the hour, it is almost impossible to predict within that hour. The lines at Target may fluctuate wildly within a single hour period, while the overall customer throughput may meet forecast precisely. This makes line management extremely challenging. The secret to line management is cross-trained employees pulled from non-mission critical tasks to keep wait times within predetermined limits. Stocking, cleaning, remerchandising, gathering carts, etc. are all necessary activities. Some of them are mission critical,… Read more »
J. Peter Deeb
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Being creative can deflect those standing in line from concerns about time. A local retailer in our town has a huge preseason Christmas sale and lines just to get in the store are out the door! The local fire marshal is there to monitor how many people are allowed in.

The store has only 3 checkouts so store employees pass down the lines taking credit card info BUT also passing out cookies and coffee or cider! They turn a long process into a small party! Very few people walked out in the more than one hour we were in the store!

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

The key here is not which retailer is doing a better job, but which STORES. This is a store by store issue. And the issue is not technology, it is the perception shoppers have of the time and attention the store is paying to their plight. A store manager who is involved at the front end, opening more registers if available, manning one his or her self if necessary, is the key to having customers feel their time is valued. That is what makes the difference between a satisfactory experience and walking out.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

What gets people especially annoyed? Unstaffed cash registers when there are more than 2 or 3 customers in line already, per register. People don’t generally time the wait, they usually measure by counting the number waiting in front of them. In the past few days, I was impressed by Christmas Tree Shops (part of Bed Bath and Beyond) since the stores were packed, but the number of registers was huge, the lines were usually no more than 4 or 5 per register, and the cashiers moved fast. Most impressive: the cashiers were perky and cheery, not dead on their feet exhausted. Another major annoyance: when a transaction stops dead because something isn’t scannable, there is a credit card problem, etc. When this happens, the pressure from the waiting crowd is just awful. This is nightmare for all cashiers.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

For at least five years and probably more, Stew Leonard’s has been breaking out the mobile POS systems when their stores get very busy. These units (sorry, I forget the vendor) are positioned on a little trolley and operated by cashiers that go around the lines looking for orders that can be quickly processed to alleviate the crowd. The impact is positive not only in getting the customer through the line faster, but is a visible sign to all customers that the retailer is working to fix the problem.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Continuing to experiment with new technologies and methods is important. Every solution is not equally successful in every location. While having one line with customers going to the next available agent helps in many locations such as Best Buy, it is not feasible in a grocery store. Having hand-held devices so employees can go out among the people in a long line to get their purchases in the system so that all they need to do is show their ID when they get to the cashier is also greatly appreciated at places like Costco. Having hand-held devices that actually check people out is moving people through the purchase process quickly at Apple. Whatever combination of logistics and technology that helps speed people through the process will be greatly appreciated.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Mark Lilien makes an excellent point about unstaffed checkouts during busy times. Who has the fastest checkout? First thought that comes to mind is Aldi. Sometimes you are waiting 10 deep but they move fast. But if you really want to see a world class fast checkout service, visit Zuppardos supermarket in Metairie, Louisiana. Because of the high volume in such a small store, they absolutely have to get people in and out as quick as possible to avoid gridlock in the store. And the customers love it.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
So far this year, my best experience to date has been Williams-Sonoma, by far. The store was crowed to the extent that anyone phobic would have been affected instantly. Noticeably present was both checkout staff and floor staff…at nearly an incredible ratio. Customer count was high, sales were brisk, and from a visual check it was nearly impossible not to have been greeted at least twice. A great experience. How’d they do it? Near as I can tell, they did all the right things. They hired extra help. They hired quality help. They allowed managers to manage and not be clerks. They had a process and they were prepared. It was great to watch and even more great to make a purchase. On the other hand, JCPenny would get my lowest grade possible. The store was a total mess. It was overcrowded with stock that was visibly stored and brought out from years prior. The mass checkout process had long lines, no process and no extra help. I even checked multiple spots throughout the store.… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
15 years 2 months ago

During the year, I’m not particularly fond of self-scan checkouts, but during the holidays, I change my tune. Those self-serve options help relieve anxiety. In addition, the floating sales staff that can take care of certain transactions is always welcome…but I agree with the comments about proper staffing at the checkouts. This means that every checkout that can be manned is…and not only with the checker but with support staff for bagging and checking on prices and running miscellaneous errands to speed things up. The visual image of a long line is enough to turn me around and send me running…so anything that can be done to keep the line length limited to no more than two or three is worth the effort. Even a line flow management technique that allows everyone to be sent to the next available register instead of suffering through the “I picked the wrong line” syndrome is useful.

May your last shopping days until Christmas be filled with short lines and pleasant retail experiences.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 2 months ago
The #1 way to speed checkouts is to slap shoppers upside the head and remind them of where they are. Are you going to write a check? Then have it pre-written (except for the amount) and have your pen in hand to fill in the remaining information. You’ve got plenty of time to do this as you wait for other idiots to check out. Are you going to pay with cash? Then have it in your freakin’ hand. Are you going to use plastic? Then be familiar with how it works: Swipe it according to directions (requires basic reading skills) and quickly enter the required information on the touch-screen without having to consult a piece of paper buried in your purse. Speaking of purses, don’t take forever to reload all the crap you’ve removed from your purse during your transaction. Think of the people behind you, and toss it into your purse for later reorganization. In these spaces, I’ve previously referenced Joe Piscopo’s Saturday Night Live sketches in which he and an actress portray “The… Read more »
Craig Johnson
Guest
Craig Johnson
15 years 2 months ago

Last weekend, I had to run in Borders and buy a few gifts. The line literally wrapped around the store like the turnstile at Disneyland. A few things made it bearable:

The line was moving…not fast, but moving and all the checklanes were running full tilt. They were clearly doing their best.

The endcaps and books stacked along the route (marked by arrows on the floor) were fun to browse…good planning, seemingly just for me.

And best of all, there was a clerk whose sole responsibility was to walk the line and hand out Christmas candy. That’s hosting your customer.

Kudos to my local Borders and Happy Holidays.

Don Van Zandt
Guest
Don Van Zandt
15 years 2 months ago

Attitude is what matters. If people are visibly trying to move the process along and seem to care, it makes a difference. If I don’t see cashiers standing around waiting to clock in with empty registers, it matters. If every register is being utilized, it matters.

All in all, a smile and a perceived effort to help the customer goes a very long way, even when other things go wrong. All the discussion about loyalty programs is hogwash. This issue matters. If the stores I frequent give me the impression of being helpful and caring about my experience and provide good service, then I will patronize them even if their prices are slightly higher.

A card is an annoyance. I don’t have one and when forced to frequent an establishment that uses them am usually irritated by a lack of service.

Hmmm…..

will graves
Guest
will graves
15 years 2 months ago
If other retailers would learn a few lessons from Target, they might benefit quite a bit. As the other person wrote earlier, pulling team members from non-critical missions to assist guests at the front lanes is the most efficient, easiest way of ensuring that the guest has a positive experience every time. There are a few specific tools that Target, as a corporation, has given its stores to ensure their success. First of all, they created the 1 plus 1 rule, which simply means that it is NOT acceptable to have more than one guest checking out with one guest waiting to check out behind them. Anything more than this is simply not acceptable and the store’s diagnostic score will suffer if they do not observe these rules. Second, the power is shared between the management and the cashiers themselves. On each checkout machine, there is a button that says, “Additional Assistance.” If any cashier notices that there is a backup of guests, they simply need to press the button, and every team member throughout… Read more »
Cole Holland
Guest
Cole Holland
13 years 9 months ago

I work at a Target store and like in an earlier comment if there are more than 2 people in a line the cashier just pushes the additional assistance button and off the floor our team members come running! This is the best way to keep the guests happy and to also get them through the line!

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