Retailers often spend inordinate amounts of capital and expense in creating an inviting shopping environment. Music, fixtures, terrazzo floors, digital signage and wall graphics are all meant to allure shoppers into the store and entice them into spending more.
While all of this expense is well placed, its benefit can be negated in just a few minutes at the checkout line. Calling upon a popular football analogy, it is tantamount to fumbling at the goal line after a productive long drive.
Admittedly, checkout systems have improved. Self checkout can be both a benefit for the shopper (especially one that does not crave interaction with an under trained, minimum wage associate) and the retailer’s labor expense. However, shelf checkout, coupled with new, but slowly emerging mobile checkout technology, not withstanding, most checkout experiences are pretty much the same as they twenty years ago and they are often excruciatingly slow.
This is especially true in the food channel, where there are more tender options, frequent shopper codes, coupon types, pricing snafus, and numerous other situations that render being the “next one in line” an unforgettable adventure in frustration.
A recent VideoMining Study revealed that the average grocery shopping trip lasts only thirteen minutes, (without checkout time). While this is an average, and stock up trips last significantly longer, the brevity of time spent on an average trip underscores the need to avoid the excessive time spent at the checkout.
Other studies show that time spent at the checkout ranges from market to market. In very efficient markets, the checkout wait time can be as few as a minute or less. In other markets, mostly in the Eastern region of the U.S., checkout wait times can be as long as eight minutes.
Key is keeping the in-store wait time as a very low percentage of the time spent in-store.
Kroger is one of the leaders in the grocery channel addressing checkout wait times. In most markets they offer a shopper monitoring system that tracks the number of shoppers that have entered the store and the time they entered. Using average shopping times, they predict how many check lanes they will require at various times throughout the day. This system announces this information on video monitor screens where both Kroger associates and shoppers can view the information.
Having a sufficient number of lanes open is indeed a key factor for keeping the checkout process from grinding to a halt. Associate training is yet another. Trained associates know the difference between an artichoke and a rutabaga. They understand the various tender types and do not need constant supervision assistance that freezes the line, as their training continues.
Without making the technical investment of a Kroger, retailers can “observe a lot by watching”. Managing the front end of the store is a requisite for a smooth and shopper pleasing checkout experience. Waiting until lines are five and six deep in frustrated shoppers before opening new checkouts is not good front end management. Retailers that have a management person with their sole responsibility centered on smooth checkout experience are winning this battle.
A shopper’s last impression of the shopping trip tends to set the tone for their overall experience. Erring on the side of investing in excellent customer service on the front end will pay dividends in terms of customer satisfaction and their repeat business.