Driving Positive Feelings at the Checkout

By Russ Ward

One thing that we know for sure about grocery stores is that the higher the positive feelings that a shopper has about the shopping experience the bigger the basket and the more often there is a return trip. The question that has always been on the lips of any grocer wanting to increase profits is, “How do we ensure that the shopper has a positive feeling when they leave?”

The Retail Feedback Group may have found some of the answers in their U.S. Supermarket Experience 2013-Rating the Store Visit report. The study found several components that make up the positive feeling that every grocery market owner or manager craves from its shoppers. According to the research the top drivers affecting the feelings of the shopper include: good value for the money, followed by a superior checkout experience.

Value for the money goes without saying on the surface, but what really describes “value?” It is not just price or low price that reflects “value” because it is a perception in the mind of the customer not necessarily a reality. For instance a loyalty or customer rewards program can enhance the perception of value. Coupons available online or distributed through social media may also enhance the perception of value. Likewise, in store savings can create the “value” that the customer craves. So value differs significantly based upon the target demographic and their expectations of what value actually is.

To make it more personal, my wife is a self-described coffee snob. She refuses to drink anything bought in a coffee can regardless of price. Typically, you can find over 2 pounds of standard, name brand coffee in a can for less than ten bucks. But, to her that has zero “value.” However, if her special blend is on sale for the same ten bucks, but for one pound, it is the best “value” she has ever found. Value is very much in the eye of the beholder.

A superior checkout experience is also generally about perception. But, the study helps us with a breakdown of what shoppers are looking for and what they rated highest in their favorite grocery stores. It seems that the qualifications that make up a good checkout experience is more universal than the ambiguous “value.” The study broke down this experience in three distinct categories.

First on the list is friendly cashiers. This can fly in the face of the movement to self-checkout, unless you take a closer look at the demographic breakdown and actual usage. But, the frontline in your battle to retain current customers and have them refer someone else to your business is behind the cash drawer. Having a friendly smile, pointing out savings and being helpful and patient on the part of a cashier can create the feeling of friendliness. Sam Walton understood the importance of friendly customer service and is famously quoted as saying, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” This realization should permeate your entire organization. Too often employees do not honestly value the customer and sometimes that comes from the top. Have you ever complained about a customer in front of your employees? Most have and it can set a poor standard. Everyone, top to bottom, must come to the conclusion that each and every person that visits the supermarket has value. Customers will always know when they are being treated like they don’t matter.

Second on the list is the overall customer checkout experience. This means how the customer feels from the time they enter the line to the time that the bagger finishes putting the bread in the cart. This encompasses not only how were they treated, but also cleanliness and the overall process. Cleanliness is key, and not just important for the checkout aisle. It always scores high in level of importance in customer surveys for every department of the supermarket. This is not just old onion skins stuck in the conveyor belt, but also includes a clutter free environment that is well organized. Many checkout aisles are packed with too many impulse items and some of those items and their racks can even get in the way of the cart. Also, all those thing-a-ma-bobs are often in disarray and misplaced. The perception that a lack of cleanliness can give is that there is a lack of care, or worse, safety at the grocery store.

Organization and process are also crucial. The grocery store owner or manager should always be asking, “What can we do to make the checkout process as smooth as possible?” Sometimes developing a system that makes sure that additional cashiers are called when needed is necessary. Sometimes this may take a professional touch but, breaking the process into steps and then finding ways to improve each step is crucial. The grocer should always be looking for ways to smooth out the little wrinkles. Look at your current set up objectively to make sure that each aisle is functioning properly and without frustrations. An example is that larger screens that are easy for the customers to see and receipts that are easy to read maybe needed or all advertisements may need to be spruced up, cleaned, organized and current. Daily, I go into grocery stores that have advertisements that are out of date, stale and worn.

Lastly, speed kills. Or, in this context, the lack of speed kills. No one wants to wait in line for any significant time. The shorter the time in line the happier the customer, and the more likely that you will retain and grow your client base. The current claim of Kroger is that they have cut their time that a customer spends in line from an average of 4 minutes to less than 30 seconds. That reduction is quite astounding, but many high volume stores don’t even know what their average wait time is, their employees are not given the wait time average and they are never given goals or incentives to reduce that time. If getting wait times down are a priority (and it should be based on this study) then all cashiers should know the average and be encouraged to reduce it. Think out of the box, but start with knowing your current customer wait times and let your employees know how they can improve on them.

The overall conclusion is that you must be willing to take an objective look at your organization from the perspective of the customer. This does not mean make excuses, but make plans to improve your operation and you will improve your bottom line. Visiting successful stores can be a great start. Make notes and understand what they do to retain their customers. Confirm your findings by sending an employee you trust to look over the same store. Make a checklist of changes you can employ and think through the process in steps and then plan changes that are obtainable. The customer and their feelings are crucial so independent polling can help out as well.

Just keep an open mind and never be afraid to try something new to reach your customers.