Published May 26, 2021
Your customer is in a major rush. He only has a few minutes to run inside your convenience store, pick up some lunch and get back to work before a meeting. But your parking lot is full of cars. For a moment, he wonders if it’s worth it to go inside at all—he doesn’t have time to navigate a crowd just to grab a bite.
He chances it anyway—and is immediately surprised that your store isn’t congested at all. The layout is open and well-organized, the walkways are clear and the gondola shelving clearly displays all of his food and drink options.
He’s even more excited to see that you have three self-checkout kiosks with interactive touchscreen displays and modern touch-free payment terminals. Within five minutes, your customer has grabbed a deli sandwich and a drink, breezes through self-checkout and is back in his car with more than enough time to enjoy his lunch.
This is what the modern consumer wants—to get in and get out fast. And many consumers agree that the checkout can make or break the experience. In fact, 73% of customers said waiting in the checkout line is their least favorite aspect of their shopping experience.
Even as online shopping and delivery apps are taking over the world amid the pandemic, many customers still prefer shopping at brick-and-mortar stores over shopping online. Customers also tend to spend more in-person than they do when shopping virtually. This is good news for your convenience store, especially if you’ve already implemented self-checkout kiosks.
By speeding up transactions with convenience store self-checkout, you’re keeping your customers happy and comfortable while offering safer alternatives to traditional in-person shopping. This is great thinking on your part, and if you’re using contact-free payment systems, you’re already way ahead of the curve.
In fact, self-checkout is one of the top technologies that can improve customer satisfaction. As a result, many c-store brands are pulling out all the stops when it comes to improving their self-service technology to increase customer satisfaction.
Whether you’re new to self-checkout, have yet to introduce it to your store or have been successfully guiding your customers through self-service lines, it can be helpful to think a bit deeper about what effective SCO looks like in a convenience store.
A well-implemented self-checkout (SCO) system would be faster and easier for your customer to navigate than a regular checkout counter. What might that look like? Like well-placed self-service kiosks with clear walkways and support for paperless and touch-free checkout. It means your customers could start and end a transaction in just a few minutes—without the hassle of long lines.
These benefits extend to you and your employees, too. Rather than threatening their job security, SCO systems can open opportunities for your employees to handle other tasks, from customer service to restocking to cleaning while reducing labor costs. They open new roles and more responsibilities for your employees, especially during busy store hours.
Even slight adjustments are making these systems even more efficient for you and your customers. Of course, every convenience store is different, with important factors like customer demographics and implementation cost to take into consideration. Still, there are a few things that every c-store owner can try, and possibly take their self-checkout experience to the next level.
We’ve all been in a store that could use a complete layout makeover. Maybe the aisles were crowded, or the products were arranged in a disorganized way, making it a headache to find what you want and get out. Bumping into shelves and fumbling around poorly placed drink counters isn’t exactly the picture of a successful store, and this makes a real difference in your customer experience.
If your customers are having trouble finding the items they’re looking for, or feeling bouts of claustrophobia while waiting for the next self-checkout kiosk, it may be time to make some changes. That’s because layout matters – it puts customers at ease to shop in a well-organized and well-spaced environment. If your customer is in a hurry, that last thing they want to worry about is navigating through the store or quickly finding the checkout counter.
There are a few things to take into account when designing your c-store layout. First is the amount of space you have available. A successful floor plan ideally starts with the checkout counter – as the final and most important stage of every transaction, your customer should be able to easily locate and reach your checkout counter and SCO terminals.
You can experiment with different locations for your checkout systems based on how much floor space is available, where the exit is located, where your bathrooms are and where additional services such as wine and seasonal displays can be placed.
The most popular c-store designs place checkout locations near the exit. This one is a no-brainer – once your customer is finished paying for their items, their next destination is the door. By keeping your kiosks and counter near the exit, you can reduce cross-traffic between shopping customers and customers that are ready to check out.
Depending on the size of your store, it may or may not be doable to provide a large walking area between your checkout stations and your displays. Even so, it is important for customers to have enough room to move through the checkout area and reach their cars without trouble.
Related: Five ways c-stores can enhance the customer experience
Before your customer reaches the checkout line, they have to make their way through the shelves and displays in your store. We know that clustered and tight aisles can make it difficult for anyone to feel relaxed while shopping—especially during the pandemic. It can also be difficult for the disabled or elderly to reasonably shop in your store without help, limiting your customer base. When designing your c-store layout, make an effort to make the store seem more visually open and relaxed. This could mean shorter displays, more space between shelving and uncluttered merchandise.
The logic behind short displays takes the psychology of your customers into account. By being able to see the entire layout of your store, the customer will feel more comfortable and in-control of their shopping experience. A well-designed convenience store, for example, might employ gondola shelving to keep their merchandise organizing.
Gondola shelving allows stores to stack items vertically in low, easy-to-reach shelves that are visually pleasing for the customer. This kind of layout near the self-checkout lanes also encourages customers to make impulse buys of chips, candy and gum while completing their transactions.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities for reorganizing your layout, just think of how you move through your favorite convenience store. Where are the reach-in freezers located? Does it feel natural to get from the coffee counter to the refrigerated snack foods? Can you socially distance when at the checkout counter? Is the grocery area clean and well-stocked? Asking yourself these questions can place you in your customer’s shoes, making it so that shopping in your store is enjoyable and stress-free.
Let’s say you’ve spaced things out, and it’s much easier for your customers to make their way through your store. What about when they reach the self-checkout lane? We know that SCO reduces lines and speeds up the checkout process, but it’s important to consider where these kiosks should be placed in your store for the most efficient shopping experience possible.
You want to make sure that your customers have enough room to complete their transactions, keeping a distance from other shoppers that is consistent with COVID-19 guidelines.
Additionally, self-checkout counters can save space in c-stores. Rather than using large, bulky counters, self-checkout systems are often slim and compact. This also increases the amount of self-service stations you can provide in your store, making it easier for customers to socially distance and reducing long check out lines.
Self-checkout kiosks are a reliable asset for you and your convenience store – but you have to make sure that customers feel safe and encouraged to use them. This means designing your checkout layout with your customer in mind, and accepting feedback from your current customers about how to improve your layout. It can seem difficult and expensive to make changes that make your c-store profitable, but adjusting your layout can be one of the most straightforward ways to improve customer engagement with SCO systems.
In the second year of a worldwide pandemic, tap-to-pay and mobile payments have increased by 40 percent, making it possible for many customers to avoid germy checkout terminals. As mobile payment services become more sophisticated, customers can now use a variety of methods—like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and NCR Mobile Pay—to check out quickly and contact-free.
Customers can also use credit and debit cards with EMV chips to securely tap-and-pay at payment terminals without needing to type in their PIN numbers. As a retailer, it’s worth introducing contact-free methods like these to your store to stay relevant in comparison to your competitors.
Touch-free payments come in many different forms, and can involve multiple steps in order to be effective for both you and your customers. Overall, customers prefer these kinds of payment systems – whether they’re virtual terminals that can be accessed with a mobile phone, autonomous kiosks designed to reduce touching self-checkout screens or RFID checkout services that allow customers to scan all of their items at once.
Depending on your needs and the needs of your customers, each implementation method has its pros and cons. By exploring your options and weighing them with your concerns about speed, efficiency and cost, you can create a plan that works best for your c-store.
You may be wondering how to improve self-checkout screens at your SCO kiosks. With concerns about health and welfare in a pandemic, your customers might be uncomfortable with touching screens that other shoppers have used. It can be difficult to safely clean your kiosks and disinfecting both the payment terminal and screen between each use may not be an option for your store. Thankfully, there are still ways to help customers check out using touchscreen kiosks while being conscious of coronavirus precautions.
First, think of the kind of prompting that requires customers to physically interact with SCO payment systems. When first walking up to the kiosk, your customer might be required to press a button in order to start the transaction process. A good alternative to this step is to simply have the customer scan the barcode of their first item in order to initiate checkout. Your customer can then scan the rest of their items, and pay either with their EMV-enabled card or mobile phone.
Alternatively, if your customer is paying with cash, you can encourage them to insert their cash and coins immediately after scanning all of their items, rather than touching the ‘pay’ button on screen. This is a great option for your customers who still use cash as their main form of payment, while still limiting the amount of physical interaction they have with their payment systems.
This is not the limit of your contact-free options. Contact-free payment technology now allows for the disabling of the signature and receipt screens. Thanks to advances in card and payment security, customers no longer have to sign to certify their payments, which is good news for your payment systems. Additionally, you can have self-checkout kiosks automatically produce physical or digital receipts without any physical contact with the customer.
So what about mobile payment systems? We’ve come a long way in this area, and there are more than enough options for your customer to use their mobile phone to check out at your convenience store. The benefits for mobile checkout are clear – most customers keep their cellphones on them at all times, and with new technology allowing us to store our card and bank information on our devices, mobile transactions are becoming one of the most convenient ways to shop. There are a few ways that this can be implemented – from third-party mobile pay services, to QR codes, to mobile monitoring by your employees.
We know that mobile pay is becoming a significant feature of contact-free payment at self-checkout kiosks. These advances in technology have made it possible for companies like Walmart to reduce both training and checkout time, speeding their customers through the checkout process and reducing labor costs. Providing options for your customers to use third party mobile pay systems (like Apple Pay) allows them to use a compact, easy-to-use mobile wallets to start and complete all of their transactions. But there is also a way for you to keep mobile pay services in-store – with branded mobile pay services that use QR codes to help customers purchase items.
With a QR code system, a customer can scan a code on the SCO payment terminal, pay using their mobile wallet or saved card and bank info and check out contact-free. Receipts are stored within the mobile payment system, saving paper and keeping each transaction touch-free.
Customers can do something similar with apps that allow them to check out without ever walking up to a physical POS. Customers can use the camera on their mobile phones to scan items as they walk through your convenience store, view their totals as they go and then pay securely without interacting with employees or physically touching payment systems. When they walk up to the self-checkout lane, they’re scanned by a payment system that verifies their transaction and allows them to leave contact-free.
Implementing mobile pay and self-service can also bolster your food service sales. While the food service industry sees a surge during the pandemic, more customers are looking for quick meals with limited human interaction. Your convenience store can provide prepared food in less time than a traditional fast food restaurant, and with the use of contact-free payment services, your customer can save even more time per transaction. As a c-store, you can provide more food service options than a fast-food restaurant, more convenience than a grocery store, all while keeping your customers safe with efficient payment services.
So where do your employees fit in? As it turns out, mobile pay services open up new roles for them, meaning that self-checkout doesn’t necessarily mean curtains for those you employ. In fact, employees can help with the common weaknesses of self-checkout systems while using mobile services.
Theft is one of the most common detractors of self-checkout services. With customers whooshing in and out of the store, items flying, and employees concerned with multiple people at once, it seems easy to pocket a few stolen items without issue. Luckily, your employees are your first line of defense when it comes to preventing theft from your convenience store.
Sam’s Club is notable company that uses this technology. If you’ve ever been to a store that sells in bulk, you’re familiar with the checkout process. After scanning and paying for your items, an employee reads the QR code on your receipt with a mobile device. The employee checks that you’ve paid for the merchandise, and moves you along the line. This could be an option for your c-store, providing security while respecting customer autonomy.
Still, as additional measures such as security cameras may be cost-prohibitive, you may need to rely on your employees to ensure that your theft prevention measures are adequate for your needs. The mere presence of your employee may be enough to remind customers that someone is watching and discourage theft from your convenience store.
Employees can also be trained to assist your customers through the self-checkout lane. When they make restricted purchases, such as alcohol and certain drugs, your employee can quickly approve transactions while still limiting contact between themselves and their customer. You can also train your employees to troubleshoot common software problems, remove unwanted items from the customer’s cart and ensure that the customer is satisfied with the checkout process.
Teaching your employees safe ways to interact with your customers can also help with customer service engagement, and create a tailored and friendly experience for your customer. Although efficient, self-service reduces the amount of contact between a customer and management, this isn’t always a good thing.
Good customer service continues to be an important measure of the competence of your store, and your employees can provide the much-needed interaction between your customer and convenience store. By creating options for touchless checkout while providing unrivaled customer service, you can strike the right balance between direct interaction and impersonal, hands-off service.
Despite the risks, SCO contact-free and mobile pay offers some clear rewards. Implementation cost may come as hindrance for some c-store owners, but you may find that electronic and touchless forms of checkout offers much needed relief for you and your customers. Providing services such as touchless and mobile pay also help your store appear modern and reinforce the concept of convenience that you rely on.
If you’re a c-store owner, you’re likely anxious to keep up with the trends and changes that make quick-service stores successful. In the midst of supply chain disruptions, changing customer behaviors and the need to quickly adapt to unprecedented times in the retail space, it can be anxiety-inducing to find which methods work best for your c-store. Self-checkout systems can be a gateway to faster, more flexible and more reliable service, while being more affordable than you might think.
When considering SCO options for your convenience store, remember that acknowledging the customer’s perspective is the most important part of delivering good service. Paying attention to the needs of your consumers, while staying abreast of current technologies, can keep your c-store competitive while saving you operating and labor costs.
Whichever type of SCO system you use, you’re providing an invaluable service for your customers and allowing them to take control of their own purchases. And when it comes to this rapidly changing retail landscape, your self-checkout services could make all the difference in the chaos your customer deals with each day. So don’t be afraid to change a few things for the better—you could be improving the experiences of your customers, your employees and yourself.
David Wilkinson, President, NCR Commerce on the Future of Self-Checkout, POS & more