Many retailers have put the recession behind them, choosing instead to focus on improving the customer experience to boost loyalty. According to a recent survey of 318 retail executives by the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation and advisory firm KPMG:
- 75 percent of retail executives said improving customer service would be a priority in 2011 -- up 56 percent from 2010; and
- 74 percent of retail executives plan to increase customer insight and data gathering initiatives in response to significant changes in shopping behaviors.
Katherine Mance, executive director of the NRF Foundation, notes, "As we move forward in 2011, retailers will strive to keep costs low, but will also continue to focus on providing positive and unique shopping experiences for their customers. This year's report paints an encouraging picture of the coming year for both retailers and consumers."
One high-visibility strategy to improve the shopping experience while simultaneously gaining valuable insight into customer behavior is at the front end -- the designated area of a retail store where prompt, or excruciatingly slow, checkout leaves a lasting perception that influences whether consumers will return.
Richard Larson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has extensively studied the psychology of people waiting in lines, concludes people will wait peacefully and patiently when they perceive a line is just and fair, but they will become impatient or unruly if they think it isn't.
This finding validates what retailers have long known: A long wait can mean less time shopping, or it can result in missed sales altogether. That's why retailers have implemented numerous strategies to manage the front end, from shifting customers through a single snaking line, to overstaffing registers with surplus cashiers.
Technology 'in the queue'
At the 2011 National Retail Federation's BIG Show, it was no surprise that customer experience was the focus. Retailers were seeking innovative technologies to build differentiating customer loyalty that would drive repeat purchasing patterns and build business.
Hundreds of attendees inquired about Queue Management technology because of its ability to optimize front-end staffing and checkout times, with quantifiable metrics, such as two-minute-max wait times. Real-time monitoring feeds checkout line information to key front-end management through a handheld mobile device, or in-store monitor, that's visible to consumers. In addition, the technology predicts how many open checkouts will be required to meet the standard.
As we move forward beyond 2011, the front-end customer experience will become an increasingly more important revenue engine. Its performance, along with consumer insight, can turn a positive shopping experience into lasting customer loyalty.
At a Glance: Checkout Line Management Returns
- Improve customer service: Superior customer service differentiates a retailer to build loyalty
- Reduce wait time: Less time in line improves the shopping environment -- and customer loyalty that drives sales
- Optimize staff deployment: Retailers can project, optimize and allocate front-end staff hours in response to fluctuating customer arrivals
- Manage labor costs: Retailers cannot be understaffed during peak consumer traffic or overstaffed during slower traffic periods