Monday, April 7, 2014

Retail Idea - Managing your shopper’s waiting state

A recent idea implemented by PepsiCo at a London bus stop got me thinking about the similarity with regard to a person’s waiting state between the situation at a bus stop and in a store; namely the waiting at checkout counters.

Shoppers and Retailers alike do not like the billing counters. Shoppers hate to wait for the check out and Retailers dread all the potential issues that arise out of a long checkout line. Most shoppers have reconciled themselves to this pain even if they crib and complain about it. Sure, there are some who leave their baskets and trolleys behind when faced with a long line and that is a loss of sales to the store. Retailers are constantly investing in technology to overcome this pain point with self check out, mobile check out, etc. Yet, this remains one of the biggest areas of shopper distress especially in physical, mass merchandise stores.

This is a classic example of a shopper’s waiting state. However, there are many other instances where a shopper is made to wait and in several cases the Retailer might not even be aware of the resultant resentment building up inside the shopper and/or those accompanying the shopper.

Identifying, understanding and addressing any such waiting state of the shopper is a crucial building block in delivering overall customer satisfaction. 

Let me discuss about the biggest pain of them all, the checkout line in this article and will move on to other instances of the shopper’s waiting state, in subsequent posts.

As mentioned earlier retailers have introduced self scanning, self checkout, mobile billing, etc., to try and reduce the waiting time at the billing counter. However, this is not a problem that can be completely resolved because of a simple logistics issue. The cost of manpower and technology required to handle the peak crowd of shoppers would be idle for a majority of time because shoppers tend to follow the 80:20 principle. 80 percent of them would end up shopping in the evenings and at weekends which creates an obvious load on the infrastructure and leads to bottle necks.

Self check outs are gaining ground although the shoppers are equally divided between hailing it as the best thing as compared to deriding it as a bigger problem than manned checkout stations. Therefore, let us leave this topic and address the core issue with regard to the shopper’s waiting state at the checkout.

At a very basic level, when any person is waiting they can be distracted from the monotony of waiting or their waiting can be reduced or removed. Solutions like the self check out, etc., address the elimination or reduction of this waiting state. However, as I mentioned, there is a logistic constraint in being able to eliminate this completely.

So, the other solution is to distract the shopper from their waiting. Many retailers have tried installing televisions near the billing counters to try and distract the shoppers from waiting but I do not think that this has worked very well. One key constraint is with regard to content which might not be interesting enough and the other is the presence of advertising as Retailers tend to see this as a revenue generating source more than a solution to manage the shopper’s waiting state.

When I saw this video about what PepsiCo had done at a London bus stop, it struck me as a potentially WOW solution to distract shoppers and hence manage their waiting state.

This is an interesting use of augmented reality and the display helps to completely engage the viewer as you can see in the video. Now imagine such screens placed near the checkout counters of your supermarkets and other crowded stores. The chances that you will be distracted sufficiently enough to be oblivious of the waiting state are quite high.

However, this is subject to the content and if that is not engaging, for how many repeat visits would this solution last?

That is where the Retailer should engage in a triangular Win-Win-Win arrangement which would help manage their shoppers as also deliver value to everyone concerned. One such potential agreement could be with the brand as also a major movie house.

The brand installs these screens in the stores which include some interesting and engaging augmented reality displays. The movie house can release augmented reality clips and trailers of their forthcoming movies. Imagine standing in a line to get your purchases billed and you see Shahrukh Khan or Leonardo DiCaprio walking down the line and mouthing a few dialogues or doing some stunts. While a few shoppers might still not be distracted the majority would and that means that their waiting state has been handled positively.

An idea worth bringing into reality!