Shopping & Queues: It’s All About Customer Satisfaction

Shopping & Queues: It’s All About Customer Satisfaction

Pete Abila is on point in his May 14, 2012 blog, “What might seem like an obscure topic is actually one in which we are all affected: The Science of Lines.”

Everyone has heard the horrors of DMV, airport, Christmas and amusement park lines.  They’re long, they’re boring, they close just before you get to the end!   We’ve probably all asked the question, “Isn’t there something that can be done to improve this situation?”

QuikLine installation underway: Whole Foods 57th Street NYC

And, from the store/park/agency perspective, the “line” experience (or the “front”) is crucial to customer satisfaction levels regarding their entire experience.  In other words, it doesn’t matter (or matters less) that you found the bargain of the century if the check-out experience was lousy; the ride might be unbelievable but the entrance system was confusing and…you get the idea. 

Progressive Grocer sums it up pretty well, “75% of shoppers said a positive experience at the front of the supermarket makes their overall opinion of the store ‘much better’.”

That’s a pretty significant number: 75% have a better shopping experience when the checkout process is perceived as good.  Another interesting comment is concern about check out time is so strong that many shoppers, upon entering, will glance at the front and base their shopping experience (time and related $$) on line conditions. 

Sometimes shoppers will “balk” after looking at lines (leaving the experience without a purchase) while some may wait in line for awhile and then leave without finalizing their purchase.  These behaviors are particularly bad news for a retailer: they were not only able to entice a shopper into their store (which took advertising, marketing, location and all sorts of other retail and financial components) but the shopper made positive purchase decisions only to lose the revenue because of a perceived (or actual) wait.

You’re no doubt asking, “This should be a no brainer: why isn’t the “front” experience better?”  There are several elements to this discussion and they range from mathematical and economics models to psychology:

(1) The tradeoff between cost and service in the “front” experience.  One might suggest a new cashier whenever someone new arrives to check out but..that’s really not a reasonable solution given any sort of “cost/benefit” analysis.  There are ways to improve the equation, however!

(2) There are opportunities to implement queue management systems that notify shoppers when a new line is available, direct shoppers to the next available line and clearly identify closed registers.  These systems reduce many of the negatives associated with waiting such as the “unfair” line, questions about which line is faster, etc.

CPS’ QuikLine provides all of those features with an administrative process allowing store employees to quickly/easily open new registers, assign registers to “express” categories and create messages.

QuikLine helps resolve a number of shopper “behavioral” concerns about waiting: “unfair” lines (e.g., “Why don’t they handle returns in a special area?“); waiting seems longer longer when the end result is unknown (“I can’t even see all the lines; some are around the corner or hidden“) and “group” waiting’s appeal (“I’d rather wait in a single line and know what to expect“).

(3) The “wait experience” is capable of moving beyond “clock watching” when process improvements are made.  Why not make the waiting experience informative and/or a revenue opportunity?  It is possible to make a wait feel shorter by providing easy-to pickup items next to the line or running informative video, for example. There will be an immediate impact on both customer satisfaction and revenue!

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