Wooden ducks in a queue

Optimizing the Customer Journey in an Example of a Supermarket Queue

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Whether you do your weekly grocery shopping or go on the daily hunt for fresh fruit and vegetables, or simply need a beverage for a trip – eventually, everyone ends up in the supermarket queue. And the only thing to do there is: waiting.

In a survey, 2,000 Americans were questioned and 88% of them said they would prefer spending less time of their lives at supermarket checkouts. Of course, we Germans could pretend being much more patient and less spoiled. However, I think that everyone who already listened to the small talk of an elderly man with the cashier while the queue was getting longer and longer will agree talking is a human need (Source: Harris Poll & Digimarc via retailtouchpoints). In customer journey management, the checkout is the final step in a purchase process and should therefore be as positive for the customers as possible so that they come back to you. Even though most of us somehow depend on supermarket queues, there are so many stores out there that extreme waiting times may decide on who returns to you and who defects to a competitor brand.

But how can you optimize something that apparently has not undergone any positive change in decades?

Problem 1: There is no way around this touch point

Nowadays, many hotels verify credit card details when people check in so that checkout proceeds smoothly and fast. In a supermarket, this would be hardly possible and cause even more chaos. So, the touch point will stick to the end of the shopping tour. This makes it a “moment that matters”, that is, a crucial touch point for the customers, which has a great influence on future customer visits.

Problem 2: The customers don’t know what they want

Not only did 88% of the respondents of the Harris Poll survey state they wished shorter waiting times, but 61% also said they wanted more human interaction, because cashiers only concentrate on products and processes. Dear respondents, they focus on their job to make your shopping faster, so what do you want? Well, that’s how things are. One the one hand, I want to be served fast, one the other hand I wrinkle my nose when cashiers don’t even look at me or don’t respond to my friendly “Have a nice day.”. Sure, on some days I could do without these social elements but, hey, you can’t have everything, right?

Problem 3: The solution is not customer-friendly

When things are too slow, the first thing companies (and their consultants) usually come up with is automating processes or cutting down on service staff. This can be advantageous, like in the case of self-service rent and return machines some of the Berlin libraries have set up. However, the supermarket managers’ idea of introducing self-service checkouts was partly disapproved by the public. While Walmart set up 10.000 self-checkouts in their stores in 2013, other retailers like Costco, Jewel-Osco and Albertsons decided not to introduce them after a short trial period. But why? Because customers couldn’t handle the technology and, eventually, preferred being served by a human being. In a British survey conducted among 400 customers, one third stated they had already left a store without a purchase because the process was so frustrating (Source: Tensator via kioskmarketplace).

This may be because many of the (British) self-service checkouts produce weird light and sound signals when problems occur putting the customer unintentionally in the limelight until a member of the staff rushes to help. Assuming that our public behavior is mainly characterized by trying not to disgrace ourselves, these experiences are certainly not part of a perfect customer journey, right?

The solution: work with your customers

  1. Reduce negative experiences in customer journey

Kioskmarketplace quotes Michelle Marian, who works at Motorola, as saying that many businesses have done away with warning lights; instead, they send messages to the mobile devices of their service staff. This way, help is fast and discreet.

  1. Use human contact the right way, don’t avoid it

At IKEA, shop assistants consistently take care of 2-4 self-service checkouts, always ready to jump in and answer customer questions (and thereby avoiding mistakes). Also, many American supermarkets hire service staff to help putting the purchases in shopping bags at self-service checkouts. Especially, with handicapped accessible checkouts, this is a great benefit.

  1. Consider target groups and locations

Companies must also take the location of their stores and their target groups into consideration, when they plan to introduce self-service checkouts. While the city center of Berlin attracts many millennials, who may prefer the technical solution, things will be entirely different in small cities in rural areas: people know each other and prefer human interaction.

  1. Provide benefits

Many British supermarkets made the concept of self-checkouts more digestible to their customers by providing them loyalty offerings. This way, modern systems can recognize preferred products, make offers and provide discounts. When self-service has financial benefits, customers are much more motivated to embrace it.

  1. Leave the customers options

It might be different in 10-15 years, but for now, I think supermarkets that offer exclusively self-checkouts would have big problems reaching out to the masses. As long as there is a big chunk of your customers preferring traditional systems, you should try to offer both options, instead of forcing a solution on your customers that they don’t want and don’t use.

Get more advice on customer service to optimize your customers’ journey in our free-of-charge guide.

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