The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced more customers to stay home—but isolation has only made them appreciate brick-and-mortar all the more.
In the early portions of 2022, mega-retailers Target and Walmart have seen major increases in year-over-year foot traffic, increasing 6.1% and 4.9% respectively.
Rather than killing offline retail, the pandemic has “infused new life” into it, according to a Retail Trends 2022 report. But for many shoppers, there is one aspect of the in-person retail experience they probably didn’t miss: the never-ending lines.
Even a great store visit can feel like a wasted afternoon if the lines are long and there’s nothing else to do. And word gets around: about 81% of shoppers who had a bad checkout line experience will tell others about it.
Fortunately, retail shops can prepare for the influx of foot traffic, and use the checkout line as a new opportunity to upsell, cross-sell, and improve the customer experience—without giving in to boring logjams in the checkout line.
Why checkout lines don’t have to be a bad thing
For many store owners, the instinct is to shy away from long lines. They look for ways to start line-busting, reducing the overall wait time.
On the surface, this seems like you’re doing the customer a favor. But it sometimes side-skirts an obvious upside: having customers in your line is a rare opportunity to interact with them.
When shop owners start line-busting, they use strategies like self-service checkouts or adding more staffing to create more lines to assist customers. In Amazon’s case, the retailer doesn’t even want lines at all. Customers can simply walk in, take what they need, and walk out. The store itself handles the automatic charging to the customer’s account.
Since COVID, we’ve seen an uptick in buy-online, pickup-in-store (BOPIS) strategies. Customers love the convenience of driving up and driving away without interruption. And spreading the customer load between BOPIS and in-house lines certainly reduces wait time.
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But is it enough to line-bust? What if you want to go beyond that and make the line experience better for customers?
Enhancing the POS (point-of-sale) experience
Mobile devices can help break up the monotony of long lines.
With Shopify, for example, you can make any mobile device a POS terminal, even without the use of APIs. Even so, there are ways to enhance the line experience other than shortening it:
- Emailing shoppers a pre-loaded cart. The Sheet Society will sometimes email its customers pre-loaded carts full of different colors. Customers can then use the pre-loaded cart to decide which is the best color after comparing it to linens at home.
- Saving a cart to shop later. A lot of Shopify stores use this feature to line-bust, multitasking different customer orders when staffing is limited. But it has just as much practical value in building a checkout line sales experience. If a customer has to ditch a line for any reason, for example, your store can follow up by sending the same cart via email.
Adding upsells and cross-sells to turn lines into sales opportunities
If the line is going to be about five minutes or longer, it needs to be a pleasant experience for the customer. But adding any old upselling and cross-selling promotion doesn’t necessarily enhance the experience.
Consider Ulta, which offers beauty services in-store. Customers can occupy themselves with the salon treatment when the lines are too long, or they can book in advance to make it part of the shopping experience.
You can also attract new customers and “upsell” them on the experience when they visit your store. Gap does this by allowing third parties to pick up an order on the original buyer’s behalf. All the picker-upper has to do: supply a photo ID.
This lands a new potential customer in the store, putting them right into line and offering the perfect opportunity to make an impulse buy.
💡 PRO TIP: Sending digital receipts via email is a great way to organically collect customer contact information at checkout and build an email list to fuel your retention marketing. Just make sure they’ve opted in to hearing from you before sending them anything.
Using product bundling to encourage point-of-sale purchases
Some stores arrange displays to show products as bundles. Rather than stocking your checkout line experience with small-ticket “impulse purchase” buys, try to think in terms of these bundles. If a customer sees their purchase as part of a bundle during the line, they might take it as an opportunity to secure themselves a deal.
This is especially effective when using popular products. Customers can add more items to their carts, enjoy discounted bundles, and increase their average order values in the store.
From their perspective, they just made a smart purchasing decision—and spent less time feeling bored.
How can retailers prepare for increased foot traffic?
Foot traffic is something of a Rorschach test for retailers. Some look at the influx of foot traffic and see only logistical problems—for them, reducing the time spent in the queue has obvious advantages.
Those in the know, however, realize foot traffic is a key opportunity for making the in-store experience unforgettable.
Let's discuss how to prepare for increased foot traffic so it isn't a stressor.
Give your customers something to do
The fastest way to enhance your checkout line experience is to occupy your customers.
- Consider adding digital signage that can facilitate number-taking for better service, or offer news or entertainment while the queue moves. Digital signage is also great for inspiring cross-sells, especially for highly popular items.
- Give them something to do. Retail app use jumps 51% when customers are waiting in line. Use this opportunity to engage customers with contests, have them sign up for mailing lists, or offer them discounts if they fill out surveys.
- Refresh impulse buys your customers can consider as they wait in line. This is especially beneficial if you have products that give a tactile experience—fabrics they can feel between their fingers, for example, or makeup demonstrations they can see.
Experiment with different queue strategies
Before you spread your staff thin in a vain attempt to keep every line moving with precision, consider your options for different queue strategies that fit your needs.
For example, some retailers find that a common line actually works better than several lines, reducing feelings of unfairness among shoppers fretting about having picked the long line.
Offer mobile registration
Every customer has different preferences, which means some will prefer a short line no matter how engaging you make the experience. But you don’t have to reorganize your entire shop’s layout just to cater to these preferences.
You can offer mobile registration to customers waiting in line. This helps them pick whether they want to reserve a place in line. For example, some restaurants at Disneyland will offer notifications to people who have signed up for the app, asking if they’re ready to receive their order.
With a confirmation in place, the cooks will start firing up the grills.
Use tap-to-pay to reduce friction in line
Tap-to-pay is becoming more popular since COVID, with contactless pay increasing 150% since 2019. And in the U.S., there are more opportunities to make this a point in your retail experience’s favor than there are overseas. About 96% of cards in South Korea were cardless by 2018. At that same point, only about 3% of total United States credit cards were the same.
Letting customers use contactless payments can reduce friction at the check-out. Even better, it doesn’t require that you abandon up-sells and cross-sells and other great experiences for people who are waiting in line.
When a long checkout line is a good thing
A long line can be a red flag for some retailers, especially those who want to cut lines to the bare minimum. But recent trends show that retailers are just as interested in turning the checkout line into an experience. Those who want to add to the retail checkout line experience will find opportunities with digital signage, upsells, and cross-selling strategies. Managed properly, it can be a source of additional revenue, cross-sells, or new app signups.
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