Who’s spending money and who’s just wasting time?

checkout, POSYou walk into a store looking for a new outfit, it takes you around 10 minutes to pick out a few items, but it’s fun so who’s counting. You then spend four minutes waiting for help on sizing – OK they’re busy. Can you now be bothered waiting to try these on? Five minutes later you finally get a change room and love two items – so let’s pay and we’re out of here, right? There are a few people in line and then damn it, a person in front has a return. Seven minutes later and you’re stressing and running late, thinking ‘Do I really need to buy these things now?’ You finally make the purchase and rush off; forgetting that shopping is meant to be fun.

When you’re out shopping, if you had spent less time waiting around, would you have been more relaxed and therefore purchased more? Would the short line wait mean less abandoned items? Maybe you would actually have an enjoyable retail therapy experience.

All businesses that depend on human engagement will encounter varied levels of friction. While this is understandable; the trick for business is to know your pain points and to proactively measure in-store activity to keep wait and engagement times at an acceptable level.

The reality is whether it’s through work or family commitments, ‘time’ is fast becoming one of the most valuable and scarcest resources.

Many compensate for lack of time by missing breakfast or lunch, eating or sending emails while they commute or late night online shopping.

So it’s understandable when confronted with excessive waiting that our frustration levels rise and experience levels drop. It should come at no surprise that finding a way to manage and keep wait and service times low is critical to customer satisfaction and business success.

Businesses are constantly investing time and money into improving customer experience and engagement within physical stores. Unfortunately all that effort quickly comes undone if we can’t keep a customer happy all the way out the door.

If you’re worried about online competition then you should be more worried about slow and bad service, especially during the checkout process.

A lengthy or complex checkout in the past has cost e-commerce stores big dollars as customers abandoned purchases. While online has the tools to measure and correct this, the physical store is still playing catch-up.

So what is an acceptable wait time? 70 per cent of retailers report consumers will wait five minutes or less before a customer abandons a purchase and leaves the store.

An excessive wait time undermines all the effort invested not only by the store, but also the customer in finding and deciding what to purchase.

Whether its layby, click and collect, change rooms, self-checkout or cashier lines; maintaining a fine balance helps reduce congestion and space wastage. It allows customers to spend more time and money shopping and improves both customer and staff experience.

queue, shop, shoppers, fans, shopping, saleMore stores are counting how many customers enter their stores and the number of people passing through the cashier area. This is a good first step as retailers need to understand traffic flow in order to try and estimate demand on support and checkout staff.

Counting how many people walk through a given area unfortunately in most cases won’t show;

  • Adults vs children
  • If there is a queue and if so how long it is
  • Wait time and speed of queue movement
  • Number of cashiers active
  • Customer processing time per cashier

While long and slow queues are confronting, the true impact can be;

  • Customers made a purchase but left the store feeling dissatisfied
  • Abandoned purchase
  • Customers walked into store and straight back out when confronted with long queues

Retailers talk about loss prevention, but with so much at stake what about abandoned sales prevention? This would have to be the hidden sales killer.

Brands like Country Road generate 80 per cent of their revenue in-store so a percentage gain can bring big increases from existing resources.

Another interesting example is Chemist Warehouse. During a previous visit I noticed that when the checkout queue got long, the security guy at the door would press a bell and another cashier would make their way down.

In an overly complicated world you would think a simple and quick fix to a big challenge – not quite.

Chemist Warehouse has invested heavily in computer vision to track customer activity and generate aisle movement. Though after all that effort, the customer’s last and what some see as the most important activity – the checkout – is untracked. This is the final hurdle where sales can be made and lost and it seems such a waste, that true queue management has eluded them.

True, a queue isn’t always avoidable. It’s about achieving a balance between ideal wait times and appropriate staffing to support this.

Even though short wait times should be your objective, there’s nothing wrong with trying to use distraction to make wait times feel shorter. From background music, magazines, accessories and top selling products, this keeps customers occupied while they wait. It’s a proven technique used by numerous stores, not to mention offers potential upsell opportunities.

With congestion and the pace of queues, finding technology that can accurately and quickly measure and advise real time is a challenge. Some solutions claim a 65 per cent count rate – which might be acceptable for door counting but not when trying to measure customer experience.

If your business is ready to engage in the next level of retail, make sure you put in place measures that will provide you with a deeper understanding of flow from door to till and highlight any potential risks that impact your business drivers and profits.

Remember, all technologies have shortfalls so ensure you do your research and comparisons. Aim for a holistic approach for a complete view of your store and a solution that supports your business success.

Paul Sideridis is the founder of Onsite Insights and can be contacted on 1300 664 550 or at pauls@onsiteinsights.com.au

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