Nobody likes waiting in line, especially when shopping. Checkout lines… customer service lines… return lines at the mall. According to Consumer Reports, 62 percent of people cite waiting in line as the most stressful part of the retail experience.
But studies also show that people are most frustrated by waiting needlessly. Given a diversion, people’s frustration lessens – or even disappears. That’s exactly why grocery stores stock tabloids by the cash register. These items give customers something to do while they wait – which makes the wait feel shorter.
For most retailers, it’s more complicated. Not only do customers wait in line to pay, they wait for someone to help them find the merchandise in the first place. Then they have to wait again if they need to make a return.
But savvy retailers are applying high-tech solutions to this low-tech problem.
May I be of service?
With the rising popularity of retail “self service”, most retailers have curtailed the number of salespeople on the floor. But not all consumers like self-service, especially when purchasing expensive, complex or customized items.
Stores employing salespeople off the floor face a challenge. Since there are fewer associates to help customers, customers have to wait longer. If the wait feels too long, customer may give up and take their business elsewhere.
Forward-thinking merchants solve this problem with a high-tech concierge approach. Take the Apple Store, for example. An Apple associate greets a customer at the door and electronically signs them in. They record the customer’s mobile phone number or provide them a small paging device, then encourage the customer to browse the store until the next associate is available.
While browsing, the customer’s perception of the wait time is reduced…and so is the likelihood they will take their business elsewhere.
Can I help you on register #4?
Whether it’s frantic holiday shopping or an everyday trip to the grocery store, standing in the checkout line, doing nothing, is frustrating.
Beyond the tabloids, some supermarkets have gone high-tech, installing small video monitors near the checkout to advertise products or broadcast the local news. Theses gadgets relieve the customer’s boredom and encourage additional sales.
High-end retailers, like Nordstrom, eliminate the checkout line altogether. Following the lead of Apple and Home Depot, Nordstrom provides their sales associates with handheld units that allow customers to checkout and even get a printed receipt without waiting in line.
Effective? In Nordstrom’s case, it increased revenue by 15.3 percent over the prior year. Happy customers buy more goods.
Can I return this purchase?
Then there’s the other end of the sales cycle: the line for returns and exchanges. The customer is already irritated by having to return an item. Now they have to wait in another slow-moving line.
But smart retailers could make this a win-win situation.
The associate could give the customer a paging device or take their mobile number. The service manager could then encourage the customer to browse the store – even to find an item to replace the one he’s returning.
Like those used in restaurants, these systems can buzz or text the customer when it is their turn. No waiting in line. And the customer can even make their exchange purchase without going through the checkout line.
The wait is (almost) over
Customer retention is one of the greatest challenges retailers face today. A positive customer experience is still the best way to do that. Waiting in lines is most definitely not a positive experience.
High-tech solutions to long lines can reduce customer frustration. And when a customer leaves happier, they’ll be back sooner.
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