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What immediately comes to mind when thinking about the front end are checkout lines, displays of candy and magazines, and grab-and-go refrigerated soft drinks, but are there any ways to enhance this experience in a new version of the front end? After all, it’s certainly ripe for change. “If you take a step back, the front end itself has looked the same for the last 75 years,” notes Mike Pedi, leader of Chicago-based Mars Wrigley’s U.S.-based Transaction Zone Team, which partners with retailers on a holistic approach to front end optimization. A rendering of the team's front end of the future is shown above. “You have traditional checkouts, you have customers that wait in line, you have product on the left, you have product on the right — it’s the perfect mousetrap.”
“The ideal supermarket front end is hassle-free, ensuring a frictionless checkout experience for shoppers and maximizing efficiency for retailers, while also balancing security and safety,” says Amit Acharya, director of product, self-checkout at Atlanta-based NCR Voyix, a provider of digital commerce solutions. “It’s crucial for stores to implement designs that evolve with the ever-changing retail landscape and facilitate change with minimal disruption to shoppers and the shopping environment.”
While acknowledging the importance of a seamless checkout process, Steven Duffy, SVP of design at Maitland, Fla.-based design firm Cuhaci Peterson, cautions that “not all shoppers are looking to breeze in and out frictionlessly. While consumer appetites have grown to become less tolerant of waiting in line, some (more senior) shoppers seek the social interaction of the checkout process. Grocers must also account for loss prevention and shrink technologies when enabling frictionless front ends.”
Another challenge is making sure that everyone’s requirements are met. “If you think about the front end, first and foremost, you have to think about solving the needs of all key stakeholders — shopper, merchant and operator — and those needs could be fundamentally different for every retailer,” observes Pedi.
Duffy agrees with this view, noting: “Optimized examples depend on format and are also commensurate with the retailers’ DNA. Are they a value operator, middle of the road or more of a premium brand?”
That said, asked to provide a particular example of an optimized front end, Pedi points to a retailer whose self-checkout configuration “was creating a lot of friction and a lot of bottlenecks. We ended up removing some self-checkouts, but we located them all together to really lessen those bottlenecks. The key metrics were a decrease in wait time, an increase in impulse sales and then also a decrease in the average number of shoppers waiting in line. … . We [additionally] wanted to make sure that we didn’t have a ton of inventory, … so we actually reduced the overall assortment but were able to sell more.”
Acharya similarly believes that a grocery operator’s approach to checkout is crucial to a reimagined front end. “With a ‘right-sized’ checkout strategy, NCR Voyix’s retailers are seeing a 20% reduction in checkout footprint required, and a 25%-30% decrease in labor checkout spend,” he notes. “Reinvesting those savings enables retailers to offer enhanced services such as online picking, order fulfillment, personal shoppers, etc., that improve the customer experience.”