At this critical time of year queues are an inevitable part of the store experience. Retailers spend fortunes attracting customers into their stores, only to lose their business through a long queue at the checkout. Clearly, unexpected queues don’t enhance the in-store customer experience. It’s important that retailers look for queue-busting strategies and alternative approaches to surprise and delight customers at this critical point in their purchase journey.
Are queues the weak link in your omnichannel strategy?
The British were renowned the world over for their ability to queue - but not anymore. According to a Survey by YouGov, only 41 per cent of us would be prepared to join the back of a long queue.
This research highlights how waiting times are a significant contributing factor behind customer dissatisfaction. Fortunately, more and more queue-busting technologies are being developed each year to enable retailers to improve customer satisfaction. However, it can be a challenge knowing when and how to invest in this technology. Before we discuss strategies to reduce in-store purchase abandonment, there is one fundamental question we need to ask… Are queues bad for retailers?
The short answer is - it depends.
It depends – on the retailer, the time of year, and the length of the queue.
For many retailers, the queue is a welcome opportunity to merchandise products to shoppers as they are effectively ‘sitting ducks’. Supermarkets are masters in this technique. An estimated $5.6 billion worth of products are sold due to “impulse buys” at the checkout.
From personal experience, the longest queue of all is the snake path around an IKEA store. I challenge anyone to go through their store without buying something.
To “bust” or “busk”?
Before we explore the tipping point at which the shopper decides to leave the store empty handed. It’s important to reinforce that queuing isn’t negative per-se. Self-proclaimed “Dr Queue”, MIT Professor Richard Larson, suggests it’s the unexpected queue that consumers are not willing to accept.
Professor Larson has found that when we’re not ready to wait, consumers perceive their queueing time to be three times longer than the time they are actually standing in line. This is why hundreds of people will wait for hours outside Wimbledon for a ticket to the tennis – because that’s what they expect. But they won’t happily give money to a retailer who’s made them wait mid-December - because Christmas isn’t a surprise.
Larson gives us two options in response, we can either:
1. Minimise the queue time of the customer
2. Or distract the customer in such a way that the “perceived” wait time becomes acceptable
An Alternative to Minimising the Queue
In terms of changing the perceived wait time, we should look no further than the queue experts at Disney’s Entertainment Parks. As their rides are a finite resource, only so much can be done to increase throughput and minimise queue time.
Therefore, to change perceived waiting time, they “busk the queue” with famous Disney characters, dance acts and other entertainment - the result being that more customers are willing to queue longer through the same number of rides.
Always the innovators in-line management, Disney has recently removed the queue altogether, “buzzing” the customer via a mobile pager when it’s the customers turn on the ride.
Retailers are already following the likes of Disney with similar line management techniques. House of Fraser, for example, are trialling a queue-busting technology from Qudini where Click & Collect customers are sent a text message during peak. Thus reducing the time Click & Collect shoppers have to wait in-store.
For retailers looking to take Professor Lawson’s first route and minimise queue times, the most direct action is to install additional POS registers. Yet, traditional static terminals are expensive to buy, deploy, manage and maintain, and may only be required during peak periods.
A more flexible solution is the mobile POS terminal. We’re familiar with mobile POS being used in restaurant chains, but it is now becoming more commonplace in retail stores.
In order to move people away from queues without compromising customer experience, however, we should recognise that store associates must use mobile POS as both a checkout and an information point. It is therefore, essential that the terminal must take multiple card payments (including gift and loyalty schemes) and have the data connectivity to answer standard customer queries, such as “Do you have this in my size?”, “Is it available online?”, “Can you deliver to my home?”, “Have you got this in another store?”, and “Can I buy what I bought yesterday but in another colour?”
In other words, it needs to provide a mobile 360 degree view of the customer, your products and inventory availability.
The all-singing, all-dancing checkout
Returning to Disney, we’re not suggesting you hire a dance troupe to tackle queue boredom, it is technology that offers us a solution in the form of the ubiquitous mobile.
As the take-up of “retail apps” gathers pace, the direct connection with the consumer can be enhanced through digital approaches to queue busting.
Basket Abandonment is a massive problem in the online world with over 67% of checkouts not completed. Techniques have been developed over years in an attempt to retrieve what would otherwise be lost sales. Bricks and mortar retailers can replicate some of these tactics.
The latest developments in geo-location technology, along with the implementation of beacons (geo-location equipment that recognises the mobile and where it is in the store) and sensors at static checkouts, enable you to recognise when a valued customer is queuing and for how long. If this valued shopper is being forced to queue – you can send them a personalised text message saying sorry for the wait, perhaps a discount at the till, or even a free music download to keep them entertained (the equivalent of Disney’s queue ‘busking’ technique!).
Beacons will help retailers observe when a customer is leaving their store having queued and immediate action can be taken. Why not send them a text message apologising, and offer to message them when the queue has died down, or give them a discount if they come back later. Chances are, if they’re indulging in a little retail therapy locally, they’ll come back later on.
In future, with sensors on the product itself, you could even offer to send the item to the customer’s home address – saving them waiting any longer, and avoiding a cherished brand advocate becoming one of the many store purchases that are never completed.
Queue Busting Strategies for Retailers
More and more queue-busting technologies are available to improve customer satisfaction. Download our latest report to discover strategies to reduce your purchase abandonment.