Achieving model queues…


Queuing at the supermarket is common to all of us and Sainsbury’s have announced that improvements to technology will mean time savings at checkouts of over 500,000hrs a year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/7957800/Self-service-checkouts-have-not-cut-supermarket-queues.html)

Sounds a lot – but it probably works out at less than 1sec per customer visit…

The space- and staff-saving benefits of self-service checkouts are clear – both to the supermarkets and to customers who want cheap groceries at conveniently located stores (remember the world before Metros and Locals?).  PR departments can make much of this as well as taking customer complaints about the ‘teething problems’ with self-service tills seriously. 

The supermarkets are right to stick to the line that they will (always?) offer customers a choice between staffed and self-service tills, particularly valuable for the elderly and those in need of assistance.  The incremental and inevitable growth of self service tills though (even Waitrose customers aren’t immune) needs a strategy for queue management that optimises the utilisation of valuable floor space that will also help customers recognise the benefits of these changes. 

Customers probably accept that disorderly queues are inevitable at the very busiest times; making sure this doesn’t occur every day needs careful planning – using the sort of sophisticated data collection that supermarkets excel at – so that the layout is intuitive and comfortable at all times, also helping store managers by reducing the amount of time spent calming disaffected customers.  To minimise the need for ‘fire fighting’ of this nature, advanced customer segmentation and modelling techiques can be used to test the designs before they leave the page.

M&S’ approach to queue management has elements the others can learn from: they can justify providing adequate queuing space at even their most premium sites by placing products along the queue lanes and, dare we say it, embracing the dreaded “till 42, please!” automated messages.  Looking to the future (and notwithstanding the different retail offer) if B&Q can manage self-service tills for trolley-pushing customers, then the supermarkets can’t be far behind…

Ensuring that such innovations are introduced in a way that customers recognise is to their – as well as the stores’ – advantage will be an exciting challenge.

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