Mobile, Virtual, and Traditional Checkout: What’s a Retailer to Do?

By Keith Carpentier,

Retailers get it. Mobile is here to stay and to combat the effects of ‘showrooming,’ they know they have to create a great in-store customer experience. Part of that experience is ensuring customers aren’t stymied by a long and annoying checkout process. Vendors like Apple have used i-devices for fast checkouts, but is mobile checkout the right approach for everyone? Retailers like Marshall’s and HomeGoods have used single line queuing in their checkout area to intelligently guide customers while simultaneously using the space to boost impulse purchases. This article examines the pros and cons of different types of checkout and choices vendors need to consider.

Mobile checkout – fad or rave?
The idea of having store assistants at the ready to checkout customers using mobile devices is aimed at eliminating long lines. Ideal during the holidays, mobile checkout offers retailers a high-tech approach that appeals to the mobile generation and has the potential for reallocating space used for traditional checkouts. While it may work in smaller, boutique environments or at Apple stores, where an army of staffers are tasked to mill about, this solution poses issues in larger store environments. Impromptu queuing for mobile checkout can cause unmanageable, unruly situations with customers disputing who arrived first, blocking aisles and hindering access to merchandise. With mobile checkout, payment is by credit card so customers paying with cash/check need to go elsewhere; older clientele may feel alienated, out of touch with today’s modern ways.   

So while embracing technology is important, before eliminating traditional queue management consider the following:

What are you selling? – Do security tags need to be removed? Does it need to be bagged?  How would this be handled via mobile checkout?

Location – Can you designate an area where you can effectively conduct mobile checkout without blocking aisles, causing traffic jams or preventing access to merchandise?

Staffing – How many associates will you need to make a dent in queue busting?  What about mobile checkout training?  Empowering associates with mobile checkout devices doesn’t mean they’re prepared to handle groups, unruly behavior or effectively upsell or answer customer questions.  Retail staff may inadvertently thwart sales being overly proactive in getting customers checked out whereas a browsing customer may result in additional sales.  

Security – Does mobile checkout increase your risk in payment fraud or theft?

Cost – Mobile technology is evolving at a dizzying pace. Samsung recently partnered with Visa to promote mobile payments. All new Samsung smartphones equipped with NFC chips will come with the Visa PayWave app.  Apple is also rumored to be having a NFC chip in the iPhone 5S. Consumers will pay by simply touching their mobile phone onto the payment chip.  Investing in mobile checkout technology/hardware may cost more than the NFC chip will to check people out of stores.

Customer Experience – Customers make conscious decisions about having an in-store experience, so make it count and avoid turning mobile checkout into a near-ecommerce event – there’s no point to completely automating the in-store experience when what consumers want is a more enriched customer journey – the reason they choose to shop this way in the first place.  Will mobile checkout ensure fairness and speed or will it create confusion and alienate older clientele?  If your objective is getting a customer in and out quickly, mobile checkout may be a viable option.  

Virtual queuing – what exactly is it?
While not specific to checkout, virtual queuing is an important consideration for certain retailers and an up and coming trend in managing in-store customer experiences and expectations. Like an amusement park fast pass, virtual queue management solutions value customer time and allow the correct member of staff to be matched to a customer’s needs so they feel they are being served the minute they enter the store. Virtual queuing promotes a positive 'first come, first served' experience and frees up customers to browse or shop while they wait -- secure in knowing they’re going to be taken care of.

How virtual queuing works:
1. The customer enters the shop/department and either takes a physical ticket, is greeted by an associate with a tablet or uses a mobile app to enter the queue for their intended service.

2. This ticket informs the customer of their position in line, time of entry and expected wait time. In-store only promotions, coupons and messages can be combined with the ticket.

3. The customer can browse, relax or watch media while they wait.

4. When the associate is free, the customer is called for service.

5. Customers can also pre-book appointments via internet, mobile, in-person reception or self-service kiosks.

Virtual queuing is ideal for retailers with multiple departments/services. Jewelry, shoe or personal shopping departments benefit from having dedicated, knowledgeable staff ready to offer customized services in a timely and orderly fashion. In-store salons and restaurants benefit from virtual queuing by knowing how and when to allocate staff, and increase the speed and efficiency in servicing customers.  Virtual queuing takes the question out of ‘when will I be served or attended to?’ and is an effective tool in boosting sales, satisfaction and repeat business.

Traditional checkout lines and queue management – still viable options for retailers?
While considered traditional, recent advancements in queue management technology have had a measurable and positive impact on checkout lines. Next generation single line call forward systems are finally making their appearance in mid-to-large retailers.

These queue management systems accelerate customer flow in the fairest and fastest way, by serving them in order of arrival rather than as a result of their choice of queue, eliminating “wrong line” frustration. Quiet and sleek, single line call forward systems indicate which cashier is available via multimedia screens and friendly audio prompts that reduce wait times by 30%.  

Today’s queue management systems also integrate with exciting in-queue merchandising and digital media solutions for extended shopping while you wait. Multimedia presentations enhance the customer waiting experience, provide targeted advertising opportunities while helping dramatically reduce actual and perceived wait times.

If you have a traditional checkout, you may want to consider revisiting your current setup to determine how you can improve customer flow and create excitement:

  • Location – Does your current queue management system making optimal use of your precious retail space?  Can you implement in-queue merchandising to upsell/promote new products?
  • In-Store Experience – Can you leverage queue space to educate, entertain or inform your customers?  Consider adding multimedia to promote additional sales. Adding InQtv or a Virtual Assistant/Celebrity Virtual Assistant to your checkout attracts clients, generates excitement and affords new opportunities to better engage with your customers without spending a bundle.
  • Queue Management System – Are your associates still yelling “NEXT!” If so, you may want to invest in a call forward system that prompts customers through multimedia to the next available cashier offering a pleasant, elegant and equitable way to service your customers.

Customer service is the cornerstone of a great in-store experience, so when considering technology investments, know your audience. Mobile checkout may be ideal for younger affluent shoppers purchasing high price single luxury items needing a quick checkout – but it might not be the right solution for you. And having a traditional checkout doesn’t have to mean slow and tedious. Know your options and create a great in-store experience that embraces the most effective queue management technology to support fair and equitable customer flow and engage customers in ways that boost sales and help ensure loyalty.  

Keith Carpentier, is senior business development manager, Tensator, a global leader of Queue management solutions.

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