Two's a Queue

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

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 ;-)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What about some solutions Colcoo - did working for that big consulting company not rub off on you at all :-)! Reducing queue size during peak trading times is just fire fighting - so the answer is simple - make queues more FUN!! Put a big plasma screen up and put on Jerry Maguire (everyone loves that film!), re-runs of friends or duuhuurr maybe fashion TV (if you are a fashion retailer) - better still why not permeate entertainment with something interesting about how your company makes its' products or how you are working with communities/charities/environmental projects - something that will make customers think.. wow am I at the front already - does someone want to go in front of me because I really want to see whether that baby orangutan likes the Jimmy Choo's they have made for him... Why not put a rack of free magazines to read while you wait - hang on a minute this is 2011 - why not some touch screens with the latest catalogue/collection/articles to scroll through? How many people do you see in the supermarket reading the front of TV quick or Heat magazine as they are loading tins of spaghetti onto the conveyer... even though they would quaff at someone who actually bought that rubbish.. We should see the queue as an opportunity to entertain/inform (and I guess once the marketers get a look in there will end up being some ads!) - the aim should be to make the customer experience so good that they want to find something else to buy - just so they can get back in the queue!!I don't want to get too carried away (too late) - but in this multi-channel world why not have the interesting content that you have shown glimpses to your customers whilst queuing in store available on your website/mobile site for them to go and look at later and maybe, just maybe become one of your loyal multi-channel customers... and ofcourse they can find out whether the baby orangutan got the matching bag too...

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