I’ve had various queries as of late around queue busting. The general concern I’ve heard from local Canadian retailers is particularly around stores with small footprints that experience much higher traffic during a tourist season. There may only be 2-3 lanes in some rural / small town sites, which are unable to handle the load over the busy summer months. The people in those stores are looking for relief in the ability to handle more customers, but there is little or no additional space for additional point of sale or staff.
Queue busting is a valid option. Traditionally queue busting has meant the use of a (relatively) small handheld device by a store staffer to scan all of the items in a customer’s basket, suspend the transaction, and the customer would then pay the regular cashier as they followed through the queue. The idea is that using these handheld scanning devices would shorten the time spent by customers at the point of sale. Let’s consider potential issues that need to be addressed by such a solution in a grocery environment:
- Basket size – A queue busting solution could work well in a small basket size situation – say up to 8 items at the very most. Unless there is special bagging area established in front of the register, and items are placed into bags, there is a high probability of items being missed, or scanned twice, which will hamper throughput and lower customer satisfaction. A handheld solution is probably cumbersome for sites that have larger basket sizes, or queues other than an express lane.
- Scanning Power – Wireless handheld scanners that are connected to the back end do not scan easily. The technology has certainly improved over the years, but has not come close to the ability of bioptic scanners or even handheld units connected to a POS for speed. There is greater effort required to orient the products to ensure a correct scan. This will slow the queue a bit, but may be a valid tradeoff over waiting in line reading the tabloids.
- Weighed Items – If a customer has produce that needs to be weighed to calculate the price, they cannot be accommodated by a handheld device.
- Receipts – Need to ensure the handheld can print a receipt.
- Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS)– If a customer has an item like a pharmacy item or an item from the meat counter, there is no way to deactivate the security tags with the handheld unit.
- Coupons – In Canada, most coupons are not scannable, and need to be entered manually. This would be cumberson on a handheld device which is primarily a scanner and not a data entry platform, and could p0tentially require integration into the POS platform beyond the standard scan and suspend requirement of a queue busting platform. Coupons are not used as much in Canada, so this may not be a fundamental problem.
- Loyalty – Customers will expect that they can use their loyalty card can be scanned as normal, and this should be accommodated as normal. It shouldn’t be a problem with the handheld.
- Queueing– It is important to consider the operational aspects of a queue busting solution. Will the attendant have an extra basket or cart to which they move unscanned items into after they are scanned? This will require additional space. Customers are accustomed to queuing in certain ways in stores, and any adjustments will have to be simple and made clear to the current clientele to avoid impact on the current queueing structure.
- Shrink – If a store associate scans items and then passes the customer on to the clerk accepting payment, it will be important to watch customers to ensure that items are not added to the basket or swapped out after the scan.
- Tender Time and Throughput– Consider that tendering is the longest component of any transaction. Now consider that every tender must be handled by the person in each lane with the most powerful scanner and flexibility on the POS. The fastest scanners would not be used on every transaction – only some of them. Will this really speed the queues?
I would suggest that a few other options are likely to provide a better outcome by simplifying the process, and eliminating some of the issues presented above:
- Full Function Handheld POS – A number of devices are now available that can scan as well as accept payment. For a smaller retailer, an iPhone touch or iPhone could be used, though EMV is an issue. For larger retailers, this Motorola unit has an option for an EMV payment device to clip on to the handheld to accept payments directly on the device. The user can even flip the unit towards the user without having to let go of the device. Using payment directly on the unit can avoid shrink problems between the scan and payment, and avoids users having to go to a second queue. Weighed items and EAS are still an issue.
- Small Footprint POS – POS manufacturers such as the one I work for generally have smaller footprint hardware platforms. There is the potential to place a complete POS platform on a power cart to add additional lanes in the store in a very small footprint. This would eliminate the weighed item and EAS issues, and could simplify queues, but does require a bit more space.
- Small Footprint Selfcheckout – Self-checkout platforms are getting smaller, particularly those that accept debit and credit payments only. Give the high usage and adoption of electronic payment in Canada, a small selfcheckout unit could provide 3-4 checkouts in place of one. With a bit more space, full payment options are an option as well.