Will 2018 be the last holiday season for long checkout lines?
Black Friday and holiday shopping media coverage are typically characterized by headlines and news segment introductions that breathlessly tell of lines “out the door” and “around the block.” As recently as last year, long lines were viewed by retailers as a fantastically effective way to send the message to customers that there are products inside worth waiting for. And these same long lines were presented to investors as a bellwether to indicate the company’s financial prospects.
Contrast this to 2018, which is shaping up to be the “year of skipping the line” with Target and Walmart making recent headlines by announcing “skip-the-line” checkout technology rollouts. What happened? Amazon’s huge bet that line-free checkout will be a key competitive edge may have had an impact. Bloomberg reported that Amazon may open as many as 3,000 cashier-free Go stores in coming years.
Why are retailers focusing on eliminating lines this year? Anything that constrains profits is a significant problem, and long lines do more than that – they represent an existential threat to retailers because the whole concept of waiting to pay stands in stark contrast to every significant trend in retail, as well as society. Consumers are driving a social shift towards on-demand everything. Making customers wait is a mortal sin, whether it’s for a taxi, a webpage to load or to checkout at a store.
While this may seem like a sea-change for many, line-free shopping experiences, particularly those using mobile technology, is the future of brick and mortar stores. The reality is that long lines inflict untold long-term damage on profitability, and it has nothing to do with the time of year. According to a 2016 survey of holiday shoppers by Deloitte, crowds are the number one reason for not shopping in brick-and-mortar retail stores, as well as long lines and slow checkouts.
E-commerce has forever changed shoppers’ expectations with respect to convenience and customization. Heading into next year’s holiday season, perhaps the headlines will focus on convenience and meaningful customer interactions as retailers put technology in place that will put an end to lines at the checkout. That would make for a merry Christmas for customers and retailers alike.
- Committed to deals: Black Friday shoppers brave lines. Long, long lines. – The Ann Arbor News
- The race for holiday bargains is on – CNN Money
- What would 3,000 AmazonGo stores do to the U.S. retail landscape? – RetailWire
- Are Target and Walmart customers dreaming of a mobile checkout Christmas? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How long do you think it will be before news reports no longer focus on lines outside of stores on Black Friday? Do you agree that long lines could be an existential threat for retailers? What technology or strategy looks most promising for eliminating lines?