I have been in the retail business for years now and helped store managers to get the checkout process right for numerous times. Mostly we succeeded and managed to maximize the efficiency both for stores and for customers in a hurry. But sometimes stores get fascinated by technology itself or focus on features that shopper does not care at all. Or misses a detail that seems irrelevant for a retailer, but significant enough for a shopper to turn to a cashier instead of a machine. Let me tell you more on how to get the self-checkout right for maximum efficiency and avoid major mistakes.
I’m really into self-checkout concept myself. To me, it reflects broader trends in our increasingly fast-paced society. Since 1980, when David Humble frustrated with long grocery lines, invented the first self-checkout solution, the primary driver for it has remained largely the same. It is, of course, the desire for faster service and shorter queues. But the factors that determine the success of self-checkout solutions are much more complicated. And, honestly, are getting even more complex each year.
Let me bring you back to the idea of the customer journey
The tricky thing is that the broad customer demand for faster grocery shopping does not translate into a broad acceptance of self-checkout solutions if using them requires over-riding existing habits. Wonder why? Simply because changing the familiar ways of how we do things takes time – and the desire to save time is precisely what drives demand for self-checkout.
Thus, when thinking of implementing self-checkout solutions, retailers should spend less time worrying about how to satisfy the basic and generic demand for faster service. Instead, the key to success lies in giving customers a more comprehensive range of pathways to complete their particular visit to the store in their preferred way – which may be slightly different each time. This means understanding the way customers negotiate between different and parallel wants: the desire for a speedy process, the desire to avoid any extra effort, the desire for human interaction, or sense of a secure transaction.
I want to bring you back to the idea of the customer journey – that is, the sum of actions, thoughts, and feelings the consumer engages in on their visit to your store – can be useful. Even if most customers want a fast shopping experience, other aspects of their journey can significantly affect this basic desire.
As just one example, think of customers who visit the store after work, to buy some ingredients for dinner. On the one hand, they tend to have heightened demand for speedy service, as they may be rushing to go back home; this might make them more prone to use self-checkout stations to avoid queues. On the other – tired after work, such customers might not wish to do the labour of scanning and bagging, leading them to regular checkout options. For me, it makes a tremendous sense as I am (and we all are!) a grocery shopper myself and have felt it all.
Never, never force your shopper to do anything
The broader point here is that customer journeys are not something a retailer can control – they depend on long-term shopping habits, as well as on the mindset with which the customer enters the store. Accordingly, retailers trying to change the customer journey through top-down technical solutions may find themselves unable to accomplish anything, even if they think they are giving customers what they generally want.
Thus, adding self-checkout should be thought of offering more paths for customers to complete their journey the way they wish – instead of placing them on a fixed route. For example, locating the self-checkout station in such a way that customers, upon exiting the aisles, may observe both the station and regular checkout and assess which option they prefer that day, allows customers to feel more in control and thus more satisfied with their experience.
Adding self-checkout should be thought of offering more paths for customers to complete their journey the way they wish – instead of placing them on a fixed route.
Over time, retailers can amass more data about what checkout choices their customers make under different situations (i.e., when buying many/few items; when shopping after work or on weekends; when buying durable items or food). Then, more specific solutions can be offered without your customers feeling that their freedom has been restricted.
Indeed, that has been the natural progression of nearly all partnerships between our clients and StrongPoint. When they adopt the evolutionary approach we advocate, they often notice massive opportunities for more carefully understanding their customers, which in turn leads to more specialised solutions for different segments of the customer base. In the long-term, it is precisely the marathon mindset that delivers sustainable success.