Who’s Spending Money and Who’s Just Wasting Time?

BY Paul Sideridis
21 November 2017

shutterstock_343157249.jpgYou 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 4 minutes waiting for help on sizing, ok they’re busy. Could I now be bothered waiting to try these on? 5 min’s later you finally get a change room. You love 2 items so lets 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. 7 minutes later and you’re stressing out and running late, 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 to purchase 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 friction points and to proactively measure to keep wait and engagement times to an acceptable level. 

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

Many compensate for lack of time by missed 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 checkout.

A lengthy or complex checkout in the past has cost e-commerce stores big dollars as customers abandoned their purchase. 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% of retailers report consumers will wait 5 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. 

More 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 we 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; 

  • Made purchase but left store feeling dissatisfied
  • Abandoned purchase
  • Walked in and straight out when confronted with long queues

Retailer’s 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% of their revenue in-store so a percentage gain can bring big increases from existing resources.

Another interesting one 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 potential upsell.

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% 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, then 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.

New Call-to-action

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Sideridis

Paul is the Customer Engagement Specialist at Onsite Insights

Become a Retail Insider

Join 11,000+ Australian Retailers