From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Retailers Shorten Checkout Lines to Combat Slow Shopping Season

Naughty or nice, many shoppers are enjoying an unexpected Christmas gift this season – shorter lines at the checkout. Retailers are using a variety of systems to speed up transactions in the last frantic hours before Christmas Day. The trend, which has ergonomic underpinnings, is showing results.

The design of systems for increasing efficiency and preventing the build-up of shoppers at the checkout is the ergonomic part of the trend.

The trend is partly driven by a reality of this Holiday Season. It is slow, according to the Bloomberg news agency, possibly the worst sales season in five years. Reporting the trend, the agency said short lines are seen as a lure to shoppers, who will go somewhere else – including the Internet – if they see long lines in a store.

And there is the after-season benefit as well. The shorter the wait time, the greater the likelihood clients will return to a store, according to a survey by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, a trade group based in Dallas.

Bloomberg noted that the FAO Schwarz toy store in New York increased the number of transactions checkout clerks must make each hour, and Circuit City Stores Inc. says customers can pick up purchases in stores 24 minutes after ordering online. Charlotte Russe Inc., an apparel chain, has installed 1,600 faster registers at its stores.

At the emporium on Fifth Avenue in New York of Apple Inc., a company known for its attention to ergonomic detail in its products, roving sales clerks ring up sales and e-mail receipts on hand-held devices. This system eliminates the checkout line.

Best Buy Co., Circuit City’s bigger consumer-electronics rival, reassigned 30 percent of its 90,000 sales staff in October as customer assistants, according to Bloomberg. They are trained across categories from home theater to gaming. Best Buy says it has cut its checkout times 20 percent in the past two years.

And low-technology retailers are going digital to speed customer traffic, Bloomberg says. Coach Inc., the largest U.S. luxury leather-goods maker, more than doubled to 98 the number of locations where clerks use ”E-Runner” hand-held devices to transmit in-store orders to stockrooms, speeding checkouts.

The trend is producing results. Charlotte Russe reports that its transaction time is down to 5 minutes from 10 earlier this year after installing new registers that reduce the number of keystrokes. Rachel Higbee, the director of operations, told Bloomberg that the chain’s goal is to never have more than three customers in line at its nearly 500 sites.

An observation by Michael Appel, a retail consultant at Quest Turnaround Advisors LLC in Purchase, explains why the trend is promising. ”People are time-starved,” he told Bloomberg. ”One of the things they want is to get in and out.”

Source: Bloomberg