Kagan: Poor checkout experience hurts retail brand
Did you ever enjoy a shopping experience only to have it ruined by a lousy last mile at the checkout or exit door? We all have.
Let me explain what companies are doing right and wrong and what they need to do in order to continue to successfully compete in a new world where companies like Amazon.com will transform retail starting with Whole Foods.
Many times, companies spend a fortune trying to update their stores and make them more enjoyable to the customer. This is what they should do in order to keep their numbers going up. Why then, do they too often screw it all up with the last mile at checkout or the exit door?
Let's look at some winners and losers and what the changing customer expectations are starting to demand from retail stores.
Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Sprouts and many other specialty grocery stores do a great job. The checkout process is quick and easy. Customers can pay with their iPhone or Android and not even touch the keypad.
Grocery leaders like Kroger and Publix do a great job at the shopping experience, but there are problems at checkout. At Kroger, it's pretty simple. The self-serve checkout still needs to be updated, but works easily for the customer. At Publix, it does not. The customer must follow every step in the exact order or the transaction will not happen.
The Challenge for today's leading retailers
So, Publix's last mile often makes customers angry — ruining an otherwise positive shopping experience. Tomorrow customers will experience walking into the store, putting items in the bag in their cart and simply walking out the door. Scanners will do the rest.
That's the challenge that Amazon will bring to the table with its Whole Foods purchase. And that's the challenge for every retailer today.
Warehouse clubs have their own problems. Sam's Club is the leader. They let the customer use an app to pay for their goods. That way they don't have to wait through checkout lines. BJ's is next best. They let you use your smartphone to pay… although the technology seems old and creaky like their shopping carts and does not always work. Costco is the worst. They have long lines and no way to pay with a smartphone.
Warehouse clubs spit in customers' races
All warehouse stores have one more problem. They insult the customer. They don't let you leave without asking for the receipt and doing an item count in your cart. It's like they expect their customers to be criminals. No other retail store does this. Why do warehouse stores think it's OK to spit in the customers face this way?
Gas stations are another source of angst. They all think they offer smartphone payment and that sets them above the competition. However, the wrong kind of smartphone payment is often aggravating to the customer making for a poor checkout experience.
Quick Trip is the best. You can select whatever you want, checkout using your smartphone without ever touching the keypad. RaceTrac is almost as good, but requires customers to touch the keypad, which is often dirty, ruining an otherwise positive experience.
Amazon Whole Foods pressure will force retailers to do better
We've seen retailers move forward with smartphone technology and payment apps to improve the customer experience. They are often better, but many times they create their own, new problems that need to be solved. However, we have not seen major retailers spend the time to upgrade, so customers continue to be annoyed.
Now Amazon.com entering brick-and-mortar retail may be the challenge that spurs other retailers to do the right thing. Either that or they will suffer and lose market share. Retail has improved, but as technology continues to advance, so must retailers.
There is no reason why small competitors like Sprouts and Trader Joe's should provide a superior shopping experience with the checkout process. Hopefully the larger competitors like Kroger and Publix will get up to speed before they get hurt with the Amazon steamroller.
Jeff KAGAN Jeff Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, speaker, author and consultant. Over 30 years he has followed the Customer Experience through technology like wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, AI, Mobile Pay, FinTech and more. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com. www