Holiday shoppers have a need for speed

Photo: RetailWire
Dec 13, 2022

Customers are looking for solutions that get them in and out of the store quickly and effectively this holiday season, according to a new study.

Accenture’s consumer holiday research for 2022 found that 87 percent are pleased to see retailers making self-checkout available in their stores. Sixty-eight percent said that they could be enticed to switch retailers based on the offer of a special in-store service. The study specifies that customers want services that will help them “make the most” of their trip to the store.

Although self-checkout may appear as an appealing way to speed along shopping trips, the technology has been criticized for operating inefficiency and for its proneness to theft. Last December a Wall Street Journal article reported that difficult-to-scan items, weighing errors and double scanning were slowing down the time it took customers to check out. A recent RetailWire piece pointed to the particular challenges of self-checkout tech in grocery stores.

How much foot traffic retailers will see during the rest of the Christmas season remains up in the air as the retail world faces another holiday season of conflicting factors.

Back in October, 63 percent of customers said they anticipated doing some of their holiday shopping in-store in 2022, according to JLL’s Retail Holiday Survey 2022, reported in Insider Intelligence.

But shoppers might not be shopping as much this year due to economic factors, with a CNBC survey placing consumer caution over holiday spending at its highest since 2013.

On Black Friday this year fewer customers visited stores than they did in 2021, according to Seeking Alpha, even though in 2021 the beginning of the Omicron wave of the pandemic was depressing foot traffic. The spreading out of the retail holiday over the entire weekend and into the next week and the increasing significance of online sales are possible reasons for the reduced foot traffic.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) gave a more positive read on the post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday, placing brick-and-mortar shopping over the whole Black Friday weekend at 17 percent above 2021.

Retailers are anticipating a brick-and-mortar shopping boom during the current leg of the season, with retailers like Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s planning or already implementing extended holiday hours, according to Axios.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can retailers speed up shopping trips for customers this holiday season without sacrificing service? How important will this factor be to sales this holiday season?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Pricing is 2022's top factor but fast in-store service can drive sales and satisfy holiday shoppers by saving them time."
"It is very important, but this is really a labor question."
"Technology must be aligned with customer experience first and foremost."

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21 Comments on "Holiday shoppers have a need for speed"

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Mark Ryski

Retailers can speed up service by pausing extra “asks” they make at check-out. How infuriating it is to finally get to the cashier, only to then be grilled about loyalty programs, charitable donations and other extraneous requests – all while the check-out line is long and getting longer? There’s no magic here. Retailers simply need to be mindful of the customers in the store, focus on transaction processing and moving customers through the store efficiently and doing so with a positive disposition. Shoppers are returning to stores, but getting traffic to the store is only the first part – traffic isn’t worth much if it’s not converted into a sale.

Neil Saunders

Speed is important during the holidays; that has always been the case. Having enough staff is an obvious fix, especially in functions like online collection where lines can be long. The other solution is to have flexible options for checkout. Self-checkout is an option, so too is having floating staff members who can check customers out on mobile devices. Target employs this on occasion and it works well for helping keep down waiting times.

Bob Phibbs

I don’t buy that almost 90 percent of shoppers want self checkout. I’d love to see the wording of that survey. There’s an easy way to speed check out – stop the bean counters from having two people covering five or six departments like I saw at Macy’s the other day. So much money is being lost by poor customer service leading customers to consider the checkout in stores as something to put up with — not something to enjoy. Adding more well-trained staff reduces theft and adds margin.

Michael La Kier

Get in, get out is the holiday mantra. Although stores are not as crowded as they once were, shoppers don’t want to linger longer. Stores that provide “Goldilocks Service” (neither too basic nor too consulted) will win (holiday season or not).

Lisa Goller

To speed up brick-and-mortar shopping trips, retailers can:

• Gather or bundle items that are frequently bought together;
• Increase staffing to serve shoppers and replenish products;
• Open every checkout lane, including self-checkout kiosks;
• Provide prompt BOPIS and curbside pickup options;
• Offer mobile, in-aisle checkout options.

Pricing is 2022’s top factor but fast in-store service can drive sales and satisfy holiday shoppers by saving them time.

Dave Bruno

More speed requires more staff, plain and simple. More people to help shoppers find what they want, more people to staff the registers, more people with line-busting tools, and more people helping bag and assist the checkout process. The math is pretty simple.

Katie Thomas

Retailers have been thoughtful with added displays and even diversifying their product mix — such as the toy display at my local Whole Foods. It helps consumers to choose their own adventure — they can grab something quickly when they want to and when they start to be short on time.

That said, consumers want to try to be thoughtful and take time when they can. I wouldn’t assume that speed is the top priority for consumers during the holidays.

Mark Self

Have more checkout counters staffed, especially in grocery/mass merchandise stores. Self checkout is great–for smaller baskets. The fact is the “paying part” of the shopping experience does not really add any value to the trip. Shoppers walking out rather than standing in line will be the correct metric to track here as an indication of shopper satisfaction.

One potential solution is for merchants to have mobile POS handy for queue busting.

Rich Kizer

I think the issues is that there is more than the need for speed during the holidays. It is now every day, and that is a huge piece of customer satisfaction. It is accomplished through consistency of service, and new product presentations with information about product. Most shoppers know their store layouts and where their needs are always met. However because of this familiarity, there is a real need of slowing customers down, to showcase new and interesting product in the store. The “get-in and get-out” strategy will lead to purchases never discovered.

Richard Hernandez

More speed requires more labor and I don’t think self-checkout is necessarily the answer. I am not seeing shoppers in the retailers as I had in past years. Parking lots are empty at big box retailers — I saw this last night.

Doug Garnett

This is the critical bit: customers want services that will help them “make the most” of their trip to the store.

Let’s pay close attention. This isn’t about price, speed, or self checkout. Instead, they want to find good things, make good use of their time, discover important new things, not have to return to the store again, and much more.

Retailers, though, often make this hard.

Gene Detroyer

Speed and convenience seem to be getting more important all the time. It is not surprising in a culture is crowded with things to do — more things than time.

Do people plan their shopping trips around times they think the store (meaning the checkouts) won’t be crowded? We would find that quite common. Are people deciding to take a moment and quickly order online and get it tomorrow rather than take time to go to the store now?

I find it interesting how two different retailers address this problem. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are less than two blocks from my home. Trader Joe’s has at least twenty human-crewed and live stations every time I have shopped. The checkout-out associates have been well-trained to process quickly. Whole Foods has gone in the other direction by adding self-checkouts. There are now as many self-checkouts as there are traditional ones.

DeAnn Campbell

Technology must be aligned with customer experience first and foremost. Too many retailers implement tech programs to solve for a tight staffing market or shorten queues, but end up making these problems worse because the tech wasn’t designed or executed with CX in mind. Customers are demanding. They want speed but they equally want a pleasant experience. These two things are not separate.

Mel Kleiman

Speed is a crucial consumer satisfaction driver and may have an impact when it comes to bringing shoppers back. But once you have them in the store, they will not likely walk out because it took too long to get through the checkout line.
I don’t think many stores have the rush that Costco does, but they sure have made what they call self-checkout fast.

Brandon Rael

Speed and efficiency are critical competitive differentiators in our mobile-first and digital-first world. The self-checkout and mobile checkout capabilities exist, and it’s high time that retailers across all sectors determine ways to speed up the checkout experience in an efficient and ultimately profitable business model.

For retailers not up to speed with self-checkout and mobile checkout capabilities, it’s critical to have enough staff to run the checkout and flex with the consumer demand cycles. Having enough staff on the sales floor and at the checkout is essential to meeting surging consumer demands.

Dave Wendland

Speed will be a game changer this year more than ever. Here are four areas to speed it up this season:

    1. Speed trip planning (using mobile and technology is imperative before the shop);
    2. Speed in finding products on shelves (merchandising cannot be overlooked);
    3. Speed of the transaction (from self-checkout to cashless transactions);
    4. Speed of returns (this must not be an afterthought, make it seamless).
Ryan Mathews

It is very important, but this is really a labor question. Nordstrom Rack was one of the early pioneers of mobile pay stations that allowed you to check out where you were shopping rather than at the main checkout. But having four or five pay stations capable of moving where the action is and speeding the shopping experience means four or five more bodies per shift on the floor.

Oliver Guy

“Unexpected item in the bagging area” is a term synonymous with self-checkout. Or at least it was when these machines first appeared in the UK.

Fortunately this alert has been eliminated.

Self scan is not without problems in terms of loss prevention for example. But its use is often driven by store economics that attempt to reduce the amount of labour in store. Some customers like the technology — others less so — but much of this is down to how any problems are resolved.

John Karolefski

To get speedier check-out service for customers, simply add more cashiers — including the person who trouble-shoots self-checkout terminals when problems typically occur.

Brad Halverson

Dr Herb Sorensen (Shopper Scientist) reminds grocers and retailers that shoppers have a time clock in their head (whether specific or not), and it’s the job of retail operators to help customers get what they need before it expires. Do this and the sales lift is inevitable. The holidays are even more crucial to:

• Have product signage made to help customers find obvious items
• Have office employees working in stores to help customers find things, and learn in the process
• Remove/reduce pinch points around the store to reduce hassle
• Get customers to shorter checkouts, or begin aisle/mobile checkouts

Roland Gossage
1 month 23 days ago

Digital services are a great, and sometimes underestimated, resource for brands looking to provide excellent customer service at any time of the year. During the holiday season, convenience and speed become higher priorities as consumers get busier, so tools like mobile apps that allow customers to build their shopping lists and use AI to map out their in-store visits provide even more convenience. By allowing customers to find everything they want more easily, while also saving time in store, customer satisfaction improves, without putting more strain on stores or sacrificing service.

"Pricing is 2022's top factor but fast in-store service can drive sales and satisfy holiday shoppers by saving them time."
"It is very important, but this is really a labor question."
"Technology must be aligned with customer experience first and foremost."

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