Mar 7, 2012
Last Impressions Matter
Walking through many stores is often a manifestation of the retailer's desire to create a positive impression from the point of entry to the store. In many cases, that impression is excellent - a walk through Whole Foods or The Fresh Market is like a grocery fantasy land, complete with exotic smells and sounds to complement a visually enticing shopper experience. No doubt many thousands of hours have gone into crafting these exceptional experiences, and a positive first impression.
Yet with many retailers, what is the last impression a shopper has? The checkout. Traditionally highlighted in research as the bane of most shopper's existence, it's a source of frustration and annoyance on busy days in particular. There's a number of reasons why this is the case. Let's face it - checkout is where reality dawns on shoppers. All those wonderful ideas they've conceived about their meals or DIY projects or whatever they put in the cart come crashing down as the shopper faces the harsh economic reality that they have to pay for it and the realization that it probably cost more than they were expecting. Add to this 'pain point' the checkout clerk, who in many cases is the most junior staffer or newest hire, and you have the potential for a really lousy last impression. Putting a button on a checkout clerk saying 'How can I help you' or 'Customer First' does not make them an attuned salesperson or CS representative.
Indeed, most retailers now offer self checkout in an attempt to speed up the process and minimize the pain associated with waiting and dealing with a clerk. And on most occasions where I've used said scanners and bag carousels, I've found the process equally time consuming and invariably requiring the assistance of the one person whose job is to oversee all of the self checkouts. Apple are going further, testing self-checkout via mobile apps in selected stores as well as pre-ordering capability, to minimize wait times and free up staff.
Yet minimizing the exposure to the checkout clerk is not the answer, particularly in busy grocery stores where the shopper objective is to get people to fill their carts and self-checkout isn't practical. Imbuing the clerk in the ethos of the retail brand and the practice of exceptional customer service is more than answering a few questions on the application form or reading the new hire handout. Most clerks can recite fruit and veg codes, but not the vision for the retailer brand nor the values which they all supposedly share. Few clerks ever receive formal training on handling customers effectively, efficiently, and positively. Scenario training, role play, gaming - all are techniques which could educate and enlighten the checkout staff. Investing in staff, particularly when they're often the lowest paid, is likely to pay greater dividends in terms of not just brand perceptions and that last impression of the customer but in terms of staff retention. With staff turnover at retail typically 20-25% per year, any reduction in the implicit cost of getting new people has got to make economic sense.
The challenge for retail marketers is simple: how can you make the last impression, as good as the first. Dishearteningly, few have been up to the challenge so far.