Standing in line and your customer’s experience

By Jim Connolly

Today’s retail marketing article is about an often-overlooked retail opportunity. I’m talking about the experience your customers have, when your store is busy and they are standing in line, waiting to get served.

Maybe one of the most common things people hate about shopping, is standing in line. By the time customers bring their purchases to the checkout, they have already walked around the store and may have spent some time trying to find exactly what they need. The last thing they then want, is to be left waiting in line for too long. 

A great example of how to get this process right, is Starbucks. Whilst they are a multinational business with coffee shops all over the world, there are a few lessons smaller retailers can learn and benefit from.

Think Starbucks

Though you may not be a fan of Starbucks’ coffee, the way they manage to serve people during the busiest times of the day is extremely effective. Given that the nature of a busy retail store means there will often be a number of people in line ahead of you, what Starbucks have done is to make the experience as swift and profitable as possible.

Here are some ideas and lessons from the coffee giant.

Extra people serving

The first thing you’ll notice when Starbucks is busy, is that there are plenty of people serving. They pull baristas from other duties, to make sure there are enough people to cope.

The lesson: Make sure that whenever possible, you get additional staff serving when there’s a long line. Also, consider how many of your team are currently able or authorized to use the cash register. Ask yourself if it’s worth training more people, so that you have that extra cover when you need it. 

Fast and effective cash registers

The next thing you may notice is that Starbucks invest in cash registers or EPOS systems, which are designed to work quickly. We all know how annoying it is when we’re waiting to get served and the person operating the cash register is taking an age, because there are so many things to press in order to process a simple payment. 

The lesson: Whilst a good quality, efficient cash register isn’t cheap, it can be a great investment. Depending on what you currently use, you could find that you save a lot of time and get even better reporting for stock control, etc.

Clear signs

Starbucks also use clear signage, in order to make it extremely clear where you need to go in order to pay. Depending on the size of a retail store, it can often be confusing to find exactly where the checkout is. I was in a store recently, which had two different lines of people waiting to be served, with one line in completely the wrong place. This led to some unpleasantness, as people who stood in the wrong line realized they were now behind others, who arrived later but stood in the correct line.

The lesson: Make it clear exactly where you want people to pay. This helps avoid confusion and ensures people can move through your store as easily as possible. This becomes very useful during periods when you’re very busy.

Impulse purchases at your check out

Finally, Starbucks are very good at placing so-called “impulse purchases”, so they are right next to customers who are standing in line. I watched this working beautifully only yesterday. Of the 6 people in front of me, 5 made a purchase from the impulse buys next to them. These impulse purchase items are typically low to medium cost items that are highly profitable. This is also a great spot to place items that you want to move quickly—older stock or stock that’s time sensitive [Halloween candy, etc.] 

The lesson: It makes sense, whenever possible, to have impulse purchases close to the cash register. Whenever possible, these should be alongside the space where people stand in line—rather than stacked at the cash register. That way, customers spend more time standing next to the items, rather than seeing them only when they are at the very front of the line.

I hope you found these ideas useful. More importantly, I hope you do something with them.

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