Understanding what shoppers want is critical to retail success. Although attention has been largely focused on product, store experience and making the right impression from the front door throughout the store, the last impression—the shopper’s experience at checkout—is equally important.
In January, Chain Store Age partnered with Chicago-based Leo J. Shapiro & Associates to evaluate “How the Checkout Really Works” from the customer’s perspective. Interviews were conducted with 812 adult consumers across a broad spectrum of U.S. households. The survey and subsequent report affirmed many perceptions and shed light on new areas to consider, but the findings also refuted some conventionally accepted myths.
The report revealed that in a typical 24-hour period, half of all Americans over 18 have waited in line at a checkout counter, and 76% have found themselves standing in a checkout line within the last week. For most, that is not time well spent. The average wait reported by shoppers was 5.2 minutes, but 14% of respondents indicated their wait was 10 minutes or longer. The study suggested that prolonged waits such as this may account for as much as 20% of the time customers spend in a store.
The report goes beyond defining the duration of time spent standing in a checkout line, and delves deeper into the attitudes, expectations and responses of consumers to better gauge the quality of time spent in checkout lanes. An alarming 39% of the respondents said they have stopped shopping at a particular store because of dissatisfaction with its customer service. While this statistic likely confirms what retailers have always feared, the breadth and depth of questions yielded some surprising deductions as well. Among the sacred and trendy truisms that the survey findings proved false are the following:
Myth: Shoppers just want to have fun.
Fact: Store experience is critical, but when it comes time to checkout, shoppers want service over entertainment. For instance, in response to questions about checkout practices and environment, only 20% indicated a favorable opinion of television screens at the checkout counter advertising products in the store. However, practices that enhanced the checkout efficiency met with majority approval: self-checkout counters appealed to 51%; a dedicated checkout lane for customers with full shopping baskets was favorable for 54%; and 65% responded favorably both to baggers at every checkout counter and to a dedicated express lane for shoppers with 10 items or fewer.
Myth: Shoppers shop while they stand in line.
Fact: Sometimes, but longer waits do not contribute to more impulse purchases. Twenty-six percent of shoppers who waited less than three minutes purchased something from a checkout display, but of the customers who waited 10 minutes or longer, only 16% succumbed to impulse buying.
Myth: Friendly cashiers sell more merchandise.
Fact: Of the people who reported purchasing merchandise from a checkout display, 14.3% indicated the cashier made them feel either neutral or negative. Conversely, 70% of the people who did not buy checkoutcounter merchandise said the cashier made them feel either positive or very positive. Again, the moral of the story is that shoppers want efficiency from the checkout lane—not conversation.
In addition to providing consumer responses to checkout practices, the in-depth report has detailed statistics on form of payment, consumer confidence in checkout accuracy, and consumer experiences at specific store types, including food retailers, home improvement stores, warehouse clubs, drug stores, apparel stores, department stores and Wal-Mart/Target/Kmart. The findings are broken down into a number of revealing categories, including age, gender, household size, income, form of payment and purchase total. The complete report is available for purchase at