How can retailers utilise queuing psychology?

Retailers must do everything they can to ensure that for customers, their waiting time at the till is not perceived as a negative experience that mars their shopping trip. Harnessing effective queuing measures could be key to maximising customer retention.

It’s well reported that competition among brick-and-mortar retailers is now the greatest it has ever been. In recent weeks, this has resulted in further demises on the UK high street, with imminent closures of some House of Fraser and Poundworld stores, to name just a couple.

While online shopping has had a crippling impact on footfall over the past decade, the rise of low cost alternatives has also seen the market shares of the UK’s most established retailers cut dramatically in recent years. Consumers are also now savvier than they once were and are not afraid to shop around for better quality products and in-store experiences, whether that’s the goods on display or customer service.

Lead the way on service, not just prices

For shoppers, particularly those who value good customer service as key to their decision making process as to where to shop, retailers must ensure they continually re-evaluate the customer journey in their stores as well as conducting regular satisfaction survey checks. A close eye on competition must always be maintained to ensure customers have a seamless experience from the time they enter a store, to when they leave.

One of the lasting memories for customers when they depart any shop is typically the standard of customer service by a member of staff, and the wait in line that preceded it. If someone is likely to recommend (or suggest avoiding) a place to shop to a friend or family member, it’s probable that these elements will feature in their review in some way.

Keeping your customers entertained

While queuing is an integral part of society and for most people, is an expected part of any store experience, there are methods of turning this period of dwell time into a positive for customers. This could come in the form of in-queue TV systems, interactive digital signage or even gamification elements that can act as a distraction for children.

Most people accept that queues are just the social norm and have no qualms about having to wait in line during busy periods. However, ‘lane regret’ is a common gripe when it comes to supermarket queues in particular – where customers choose a lane only to realise another is moving faster, an injustice to many that often leaves a shopper feeling disgruntled when leaving a store.

Ensure your shoppers have a ‘fair’ wait in line

Electronic Call Forward systems (ECF) eliminates the chance of this happening – creating a system that is fair, and often faster than traditional multi-lane queuing. When we worked with a French supermarket giant, which aimed to increase the number of customers served hourly by its checkout team, Tensator’s Auto ECF achieved a 32% rise in productivity per checkout quarter.

Single lane queues, when planned and executed correctly, might also provide an opportunity for retailers to utilise IQM (In-Queue Merchandising) to encourage impulse buys and provide a source of distraction for those waiting in line. This form of POS has been linked to boosting impulse sales by up to 400%.

For some businesses however, a single line format with multiple attendants is not always possible. Supermarkets in particular rely on multi-lane formats for shoppers often with wide loads and cumbersome trolleys, so it’s crucial that interventions are in place to provide the best queuing experience possible.

Accommodate for all requirements

Accessibility is one of the major areas where retailers can fall down. Recent campaigns, driven by Great Britain’s Paralympics successes, has encouraged society to reflect on what it means to have a disability and what efforts can be made to ensure access really is for all.

In addition to just complying with the 2010 Equality Act, which requires businesses to examine their protocols and make reasonable adjustments to ensure all customers can receive the same level of service, there are also commercial benefits to ensuring queues (and the wider shopping environment) are more accessible.

The collective disposable income of disabled customers across the UK is now estimated to be around £250bn annually, and while retailers have already begun to recognise this – many stores have worked hard to install ramps, lifts and dedicated parking space – it’s clear more needs to be done. For wheelchair users for example, one relatively simple way to improve their experience is to ensure there is sufficient spacing between aisles within a store. Tesco has taken tremendous strides when it comes assisting ‘vulnerable customers’ using technology, implementing ‘slow lanes’ for people who might need a little more time to complete a transaction.

Leave a lasting impression for repeat business

Similarly for those with other mobility challenges, the final moments at checkout can be critical in how they base their lasting impression of a store. Retailers that invest in improving accessibility throughout the customer journey will be more valued, and as a result will encourage repeat returns. In fact, focus group research we conducted found that local stores which provided a more inclusive service, garnered higher levels of loyalty, purely because

they are more accessible. At Tensator, we have developed a low-profile universal base for our Tensabarriers, meaning wheelchairs can easily pass over them without obstruction. Small considerations such as these can be instrumental in harnessing customer loyalty.

While competition among retailers continues to rise, brands do not need necessarily need to focus on lowering prices in order to attract and retain customers. Differentiating from competition through heightened levels of customer service and by providing a seamless customer journey is arguably a more effective strategy. For retail managers, focusing closely on the psychology of a typical customer can unearth some easy solutions to enhance the journey through a store, encouraging shoppers to make a return visit time and time again.

Joanne Turner is the group head of marketing at Tensator. Tensator provide customer experience management consulting and turnkey queue flow solutions.

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