Commentary: The impact of checkout time on customer service perception

By Perry Kuklin, Lavi Industries

One of the most crucial elements contributing to a customer's opinion of a retailer is their experience in the checkout line. Customers begin making an assessment of a store from the moment they walk through the door, but that judgment can shift based on the encounters they have from start to finish, especially at the finish.

Customer satisfaction is a delicate balance for retailers and similar businesses to manage as they attempt to offer the best products, prices, and customer service — not every business is able to achieve this successful trifecta and, as a result, can lose customers along the way. In a culture where it's so easy to purchase a desired product elsewhere, particularly online, the way retailers can stand head and shoulders above their competitors is through exceptional customer service, particularly in the checkout line.

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The danger of the long checkout line

The time a customer spends waiting in line can dramatically impact their perception of the service they receive on the whole. And no matter how great your location is or how reasonable your prices are, long checkout lines can be your doom, ultimately influencing sales.

Waiting customers may simply give up and abandon their carts. Shoppers who have yet to reach the line may just drop their goods on the shelf and leave without buying anything to avoid the line entirely. And then there are the drive-bys, customers who don’t even attempt to go in a store because the lines seem to be far too long.

The fallout from a long line

Recently gathered research about customers' negative experiences in line suggests that the fallout from those encounters is incredibly significant. Seemingly innocuous things can rub a waiting customer the wrong way — slow or chatting cashiers irritated nearly 70 percent of customers while 49 percent were annoyed at seeing closed checkout lines when a store is busy. And, often enough, these irritations and annoyances are enough to incite reneging. Consider these findings:

  • Close to 50 percent of all customers will purposely avoid a retailer or brand in the future if they had to wait longer than five minutes.
  • One-third of customers forced to wait for over five minutes have abandoned the checkout line.
  • Nearly half of those surveyed avoid a store because of someone else's negative experience.
  • After 2.5 minutes, customers will become frustrated if there is no progress in the line.
  • If a checkout process is being actively managed, customers are more willing to tolerate the wait time.

Checkout time is incredibly influential in shaping a customer's opinion about service. Good customer service means that a customer feels their time, energy, and presence are being respected and appreciated. They'll stay put and complete the sale. If a customer perceives that their worth is next to nil at a particular establishment, they'll walk right out the door, and so will their loyalty.

Perry Kuklin is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for Lavi Industries, a provider of public guidance and crowd control solutions. (Photo by David Morris.)

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Miriam Gomberg
    What is your opinion about mobile POS then? We are utilizing it right now at work with mixed reviews. True, it is a line buster, but issues arise with internet connection and devices freezing during a transaction.
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