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Stop Torturing Your Customers! How to Deliver “More Gain, Less Pain” for Brick and Mortar Shoppers

Guest Blog by Ralph Crabtree

According to a 2012 New York Times column on the psychology of queuing, (Why Waiting is Torture,) Americans spend roughly 38 billion hours each year waiting in line. And those billions of hours aren’t exactly flying by. . . People overestimate how long they’ve waited in a line by an average of 36 percent. Author Alex Stone states, “The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away.” Not the experience that retail stores, supermarkets and other brick and mortar businesses want to be giving their customers, especially when the competition is just a mouse click away.

While it’s likely impossible (or at least cost prohibitive) to eliminate waiting completely, retailers can take steps to make the entire in store experience, including queuing, more enjoyable for shoppers. Here are several ways to ensure that a visit to your establishment is viewed with pleasure rather than pain:

Become a queue master. As the old adage goes, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” In order to staff appropriately and minimize wait times, retailers need to know things like: “How many people are in my store?”; “How long are shoppers waiting in line?”; and “Are people exiting before completing a transaction?” A clear understanding of what’s happening minute-by-minute is critical—and this requires advanced technology capable of capturing real-time insight about shoppers’ behavior as they move about a store. Think of it as clickstream analytics for brick-and-mortar. Retailers can use this kind of behavior-based intelligence to deploy staff when and where they are needed, manage customer expectations and even design check out logistics, with the goal of delivering better, faster and more “high-touch” service.

Communicate. When it comes to waiting, a little knowledge goes a long way. Research shows that people get more frustrated when they don’t know how long their wait is going to be, or when their wait will end. Supported by accurate analytics that help estimate queue times based on in-store traffic and historical data, retailers can push updates to customers, either in-store, online or through a mobile app. This not only helps consumers choose when and where to shop, but also sets expectations. It may turn out, for example, that a queue that looks really long is actually moving quite fast—if customers know this, they are less likely to abandon their cart and your store.

Play up Your Store’s Real World Strengths. It’s true that online shoppers don’t have to wait in line. But brick and mortar environments also offer advantages that the Web can’t deliver. More personal, one-to-one service, for example. A place where consumers can try on or try out merchandise before they buy. An enjoyable experience that goes beyond mouse clicks and a laptop. The key word here is “enjoyable.” Staff your store with friendly, knowledgeable sales people who can answer questions about your products. Make sure employees are available to quickly help a shopper find a size, to recommend a book by a particular author, or locate an ingredient that’s needed for a new recipe. Design an environment that’s fun, interesting and offers something that online commerce can’t. (Lattes anyone?)      

Today’s consumers hate to wait. But they also like to shop. With a little insight, creativity and good old fashioned commitment to service, retailers really don’t have to torture their customers to make sales.

Ralph Crabtree is CTO of Brickstream

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