Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Road (train) Trip

Should I ever get out of the office this evening I'll be attending the Internet Retailing Expo tomorrow in Birmingham. These events are so useful when they're good so if I learn anything exciting I'll update on here, similarly if I hate it I'm sure I'll be letting you know.....

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Two's a Queue

Queuing is the inspiration for the name of this blog so it was only a matter of time before it becomes it's subject as well. This blog is supposed to be more online retail based but I'm still waiting for my first guest site review from my lovely talented colleague (cue guilt trip!) so I shall go back to the traditional momentarily.

Queues are a given in offline retail. There are people, there are lunchtime salads to be bought, and there are limited numebrs of staff to process these sales.It's been happening since..well ever. The problem is these days is that there is a competitor who has NO QUEUES-  the web.

So what as retailers should we be doing to ensure we don't lose all our customers to the web because of this dreaded right of passage of the shopping experience?

'Two's a queue'

The phrase which inspires the title of this blog is something we used to say at Next. I never knew if it was actually a specific decreed-from-above saying or one made up by my store manager. Either way it stuck in my head.

We'd often find ourselves in rival retailers tapping our foot and muttering 'two's a queue'. You'll be unsurprised to know I still do this and there is a reason why (besides the fact I'm just cheeky). If I'm waiting behind one person at the till - it's OK I can see the end in sight. As soon as I'm behind two or three, or ten (I'm looking at your Tesco in Richmond) I'm in a queue, and whatever happens that will be my key takeaway from the experience.

Everything takes longer

There is numerous studies which show that customers' perception of time is warped when they are standing waiting in line. A minute feels like three minutes-  and if you're on your lunch break, starving and counting your remaining 26 minutes of freedom while someone grapples with the complexity of a gift voucher (and cheques - remember those?) then it goes even slower. Note this when you serve someone - for you it may have felt like a mere moment, for your customer it was an eternity out of their precious day. Now you can't speed up time (unless you're Superman or something) but you can acknowledge it. Apology apology apology.

Let me know what's going on (or not!)

Last night I discovered the oddest queue system I've ever seen  - it was in Waitrose in Angel.

You queue in the normal post-office counter stylee and there is a screen with the number and one of those bossy automated voices shouting out the number. So far so normal. Except it's not. You're waiting behind a five foot wall. You can't see the cashiers, they can't see you, all you do is follow the disembodied voice to the next available till. How bizarre. I waited (for a while - thanks Waitrose) and pondered whether I liked this or not. Usually if I was waiting I'd be tapping the foot, craning my neck, huffing, sighing and getting generally impatient. In this case I couldn't do that. I kind of liked it.

In all other cases though I would say, informing customers of why, looking like you're doing something about it and generally getting a wiggle on usually helps.

And finally...

Queues are almost so old and so fundamental to our culture (especially in this day of self service - more on that another time) that we forget that they cause issues. If anything the issue is more key when you have the ability to order same day or next day deliveries online - why would you get up from your desk instead of doing that? If stores want to compete with the web they have to look to fix this old chestnut and not ignore it.

And next time someone in your queue is muttering and'll know who it is ;-)


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Talk is cheap

Last time I looked – well, read Retail Week - the retail industry was having a difficult and tough time at the moment. The current economic situation, government spending cuts, weird and wonderful weather, cotton prices - let alone last year’s online delivery meltdown with "The Snow". Retail can’t exactly afford to be luxuriating on its leather Chesterfield right being fed grapes by small but perfectly formed cherubs while consumers throw £10 notes at them as they walk on past. It’s tough times, no one disputes that.

This is not a situation which is going to change all that quickly, there are always things that can be done- retailers can implement better buying to drive down price, they can cut costs across their operations, they can focus on business change plans to adjust to the market, and for online retailers there is even more that you can do. All of it pretty much costs money, which no one has right now - cue catch 22 (if I was any good at PowerPoint I’d put in a  little diagram – but I’m not)

BUT if there is one thing I learned from my career in store retail it was that the key differentiator is very often in the basics. And you know what the basics don’t cost much. In fact most of the time they’re practically free. And you know what is always free? Talking.

In the space of three days I have encountered two prime examples of the lack of talking in online and offline retail.  A Yodel delivery guy managed to conduct an entire delivery transaction (including the signing of a HHT device) with NO WORDS WHATSOEVER on Saturday. I really wanted my Amazon books but I’d have liked them a lot better if he’d deigned to speak to me.

Today I went to Tesco on my way to work and again an entire transaction without the staff member even looking at me - let alone talking to me. When I looked at her expectantly waiting for the cost of my item to be imparted to me she indicated with her eyes towards the till display. *sigh*

Now technology is great –  but really an indication with the eyes towards the great and wonderful till display??! What next? The till says 'Hi' , apologises for your wait and comments on the inspired nature of your purchase? More to the point technology costs money, lots of money, talking to people doesn’t.

If I go to Waitrose and they have fancy quick shop terminals I’ll be impressed but it wouldn’t stop me going to Tesco who don't have them. You know what would - staff who don’t speak.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Finding the Fashion Finder

Question is can anyone find the fashion finder?!! I'm finding nothing on Google....