A recent article in Time magazine (July 2003) states, "Too many retailers undervalue the checkout, which is their last best chance to make a good impression." Hallelujah! When a mainstream publication like Time talks about checkout, you know it's an issue that needs addressing.
In his book, "Why We Buy," Paco Underhill says one of the things customers hate about the retail experience is waiting in line. "The memory of a good shopping trip can be wiped out by a bad experience in the checkout line," Underhill wrote. "The single most important factor in determining a shopper's opinion of the service he or she receives is waiting time."
To ensure your cash/wrap is doing its job make sure every customer is waited on promptly and, if they are forced to wait to check out, acknowledge them with a simple "hello" or "I'll be right with you." Keep the area around the cash/wrap uncluttered so customers don't feel penned in while waiting. Have everything you need for checkout well stocked and close at hand to avoid delays. If you have more than one register at the counter, make sure the places for customers to stand are clearly designated for each. Impulse item fixtures positioned near the counter provide a diversion for waiting customers and added dollars for you. Always have the store name in clear view for customers writing checks and provide a place for customers to set backpacks or purses when paying for purchases.
In the future, we can expect to see customers carry handheld computers with touch screens and barcode scanners that will ring up their purchases while they shop -- no checkout lanes. Until then, do everything you can to make your check out procedures quick, easy and pleasant for your customers.
Sharon Leicham's merchandising column appears twice a month in SNEWS. Leicham is the author of Merchandising Your Way to Success and How to Sell to Women and is a frequent contributor to trade magazines writing on merchandising and marketing topics. She recently launched a website, www.merchandisingHUB.com, with information targeted at the independent specialty retailer.