Turn pain point “queues” into
a retail advantage

Published April 27, 2021

The rapid pace of digital transformation in retail, unexpectedly led by the pandemic, has changed shoppers’ expectations in many ways. One of them includes more shoppers preferring self-service to take control of their shopping experience and their desire to enter and exit the store without waiting in queues has grown, too.

To understand how much your customers dislike long queues, just look at how often you see groceries or abandoned carts near a checkout station. Sometimes frustrated customers bust out of a long queue and leave their baskets near checkout showing just how unhappy they were about having to wait. And you can be sure those shoppers will continue to avoid stores with long lines. Here’s what consumers are saying about the queue:

  • According to a VoCoVo survey, 33 percent of those surveyed said they’d leave a queue within five minutes, and a 1/3 of them said that their entire in-store shopping experience should only take a total of 10 minutes. And 24 percent said they’ve changed stores because of long queues.
  • A Qudini article has even starker figures from a survey conducted in late 2020. Even before COVID-19, 47 percent of those surveyed said they avoid stores or walk out of them because of long lines and 63 percent said that a long wait would make them less likely to return to the store.
  • In a recent Retail Customer Experience article the author sites UK psychology professor Adrian Furnham’s, who studied queues, “rule of six” after he determined that consumers don’t want to join lines with more than six people in it.

If you are running minimal staffing to keep costs down, how do you tackle queues?


And this doesn’t come as a shock to retailers; they understand that queues are one of their biggest operational pain points. But they’re often faced with dilemmas trying to manage them. For example, they often try to address growing queues by opening closed lanes or increasing the number of lanes to accommodate more shoppers during peak times, but that has an impact on labor. In many cases it means either pulling associates who are performing other tasks or adding additional labor. So are there ways to eliminate queues, increase transaction throughput or redesign the frontend to deliver better customer experience without increasing operational costs?

Start by analyzing the transaction data from your current frontend. Is it optimized to meet customer expectations? Do you have unused lanes particularly during lean times—and if so, could that space be used for grab and go merchandise? Are your self-checkouts consistently busy throughout the day? How many of your transactions are for small baskets compared to large basket sizes? Is the frontend optimized to handle both sizes efficiently?

Simplify the checkout process for shoppers. In the instant gratification age, shoppers expect easy, fast and safe checkouts. Are interventions frustrating shoppers and slowing down the checkout process in your store? Is there a way to improve the experience by simplifying the scanning, age verification and payment process?

Empower your associates. Would better visibility of transactions happening across your frontend increase your associates’ productivity? Would the ability to resolve interventions before shoppers have to call for assistance improve customer service with your associates viewed as better hosts?

Related: Frictionless Checkout - Reduce Retail Cart Abandonment

Right frontend design improves shopper experience and reduces operational costs


Using insights from frontend data analysis can help transform the checkout experience so it’s more customer driven, while eliminating the cost of unused lanes (including finding ways to place merchandise in unused spaces). Choice and inclusion are key to ensure that your design can deliver the experiences any shopper is expecting, an example being payment preferences whether that’s with cash, card or mobile. Also, your staff and POS should be prepared to accommodate people who simply aren’t familiar with certain checkout technologies, like tap and pay. And you can use data to help determine the right ratio of assisted checkout and self-checkout that meets the needs of your store.

For example, a leading retailer in The Nordics recently decided to transform their frontend that helped them increase the number of checkout stations and, at the same time, free up more space for sales (see image below). This not only made checkout speedier for shoppers, it also helped the retailer increase sales with additional merchandise placed in the space while keeping more checkout stations open without the need for additional staff.

Deploy smart technologies that simplify the checkout process


One of the most time-consuming tasks for shoppers during checkout is making sure that they’re selecting the right product. According to a recent survey by Shekel Brainweigh 90 percent of consumers want self-checkout machines that can ​automatically identify items. To address that, you can use computer vision technology that identifies what’s on the scanner scale, so shoppers can easily select the right PLU from a short list rather than typing in the name of the product.

Something else that frustrates shoppers is when they have to wait for assistance when it comes to age restricted products—and about 50% of interventions are related to age verification. Computer vison and AI-based age verification at the self-checkout can remove some of the friction from those transactions.

Another operational thing to consider is how you deploy weight-based security. Done correctly, this can protect your assets while reducing interventions. Add support for various payment methods such as cash, card and mobile and retailers will be able to reduce the majority of interventions that happen during a transaction–making checkout simpler for shoppers.

Related: Increase participation and accuracy at self-checkout via design improvements

Managing stock loss and shrink without compromising customer experience


With more adoption of self-service checkout comes more responsibility to manage shrink effectively. While weight-based security is commonly used, it presents some challenges when it comes to customer experience because the “unexpected item in the bagging area” is one of the most frustrating experiences for shoppers.

So computer vision-based security gives retailers that guardianship they’re looking for without compromising customer experience. Retailers who are using computer vison and AI-based security have been able to dramatically bring down overall interventions by up to 25 percent. It prompts shoppers to self-correct and after that, if needed, raise an alert to the attendant—focusing on real offenders in real time.

Help your store associates serve customers better


Are your associates able to see all customers and their screens from where they stand? Can you use technology to make their jobs easier? Can lights on top of each checkout station indicate the “status” of checkout—for example, green indicating that scans are going well, red indicating there is an intervention awaiting assistance and yellow indicating that payment is being processed.

Can associates see what is being checked-out, is the item being checked out the same as what is on the checkout screen? With handheld devices that show them the status of all self-checkout lanes, associates are instantly able to see shoppers who need assistance and support them remotely or in person all while monitoring transactions to make sure everything is in order.

A large US retailer recently completely redesigned their frontend to be 100%  self-service—34 self-checkout stations placed along a wide, open space. Their associates acted as hosts maintaining good shopper-employee interaction and ready to help customers with anything that they need including assisted checkout. Not surprisingly, the early reviews have been positive from customers who said their experience was “fast, easy and helpful.”

Eliminate queues with good design, more self-service and empowered associates


Saying goodbye to queues is all about having more open lanes and removing friction from transactions. Good design can maximize the customer flow while making sure retailers deliver on an inclusive approach. Truly open self-checkouts have shown to significantly reduce wait times and it also gives shoppers a sense of control. If you add empowered associates who have a clear view of all transactions and the ability to manage shopper needs quickly you have a winning formula—one that turns your number one pain point “queues” into better customer service at lower cost. That way, you’re turning the pain-point queue into an advantage by eliminating queues, increasing transaction throughput, freeing up associates to be better hosts—all while addressing shrink intelligently.

Contact an expert at NCR to learn more.

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