A more convenient supermarket


checkout, POSIt’s a well known statistic that half of all shopping trips to supermarkets globally result in purchases of five or less items.

In fact, the single most common purchase number is just one, but supermarkets still ineffectively serve quick shoppers.

This is not because no serious efforts have been made in attempting to address the needs of quick trippers.

For example, one approach to servicing them is the “convenience centre”, which is usually located near the entry of the store.

In the US, retailers Genuardis and Bloom both tried explicit convenience centres at the front of their stores. Both of these banners are now defunct.

Of course, express checkout lanes are also widely offered to expedite things for quick trippers.

This focus on the end of the trip is very appropriate, given the impatience and frustration of shoppers that have done their part, only to wait for the store to process their purchase.

When it comes to the checkout, it’s been found that a sense of fairness is a key element in a shopper’s willingness to wait.

This sense is often best accommodated by the bank-style queue: a single line that feeds the person at front of the line directly to the next available checkout.

The typical multi queue system versus the single queue bank style. Source: Herb Sorenson

The typical multi queue system versus the single queue bank style. Source: Herb Sorenson

Separating small baskets from large baskets may allow the single queue system to be implemented for quick trippers, where it’s possibly not effective for much larger baskets.

Note that in the diagram above, I have illustrated the same number of quick trippers in single line checkout as full baskets in the multi-queue side of the store.

This could reflect the 50/50 split of shoppers who are buying one to five items in a full sized store; compared to those buying six or more items.

The only single queue supermarkets that I’ve seen to date are the now defunct Marketside stores, set up by Walmart in response to Tesco’s Fresh & Easy concept in the US southwest.

Both companies offered smallish supermarkets; Tesco with 100 per cent self checkout (but with assistants as needed) and Walmart with a 100 per cent single queue, single line checkout.

At this point, both of these chains are no more, with the plans of the new owner of Fresh & Easy not apparent as of yet.

New Seasons Market, which operates in Portland, Oregon, is one retailer that’s still providing a hybrid checkout program. It caters to quick trips and the convenience store crowd by directing them through a single queue, bank-style line.

Shoppers with larger baskets or trolleys face the traditional checkout lottery, where they need to select from one of several lanes at their discretion.

As discussed on my own website, there are fundamental reasons why quick trippers need to be managed differently than stock up shoppers.

Herb Sorenson is a US-based shopper marketing scientist, international speaker, and author of Inside The Mind Of The Shopper. Email him on herb.sorensen@shopperscientist.com.


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