Joanne Turner, head of marketing at queue management specialist Tensator, on why retailers should line up to provide an inclusive customer journey
Tesco’s recent implementation of a relaxed checkout for vulnerable customers is certainly welcome, but what else can retailers do to ensure their needs are met?
Self-service terminals are now ubiquitous in supermarkets, post offices and other high street stores, although it’s fair to say people have mixed feelings about them. A study by card payment provider Worldpay found that while two-thirds of shoppers aged between 21 and 34-years old are happy to use a machine, nearly three-quarters of ‘baby boomers’ preferred to speak to a member of staff. Fortunately, alternative solutions do remain in place within the majority of retailers, however it’s important that managers consider all customer requirements when deciding on the format of a checkout area.
For disabled and vulnerable customers, including the elderly and those with mobility problems, dementia or autism, self-service checkouts are sometimes overwhelming, especially if there are few members of staff around and a long queue is forming behind them. Tesco’s recent introduction of ‘slow lanes’ for people who need time a little more to complete the transaction is certainly a positive move – however, it’s just one example of how technology can be used to make retail more inclusive.
With over 13 million disabled people living in the UK, there is a clear ethical and commercial need for change. The spending power of this demographic, known as the ‘purple pound’, is estimated to be worth £249 billion to the UK economy, so it’s never been more vital for shops to ensure they are catering to everyone.
Ensuring customers have a positive in-store experience during periods of high footfall is an ongoing challenge in retail, particularly for supermarkets. As competition between the major grocery chains rages, the race is on to develop a more strategic approach to queue management for those who still prefer an in-store experience rather than shopping online.
Knowing that customer service teams are stretched at peak times, store managers are increasingly deploying electronic queue management technology to make better use of staff. Data generated from the system also allow supervisors to anticipate the times when extra assistants are needed to respond to enquiries and help people move through quickly.
Virtual queuing solutions are another way to give people more choice about the way they shop. Using a smartphone or in-store kiosk, customers generate a ticket, which gives them a position in the queue, an allotted time and how long they can expect to wait. Whether someone has a disability or not, it reassures people that they will be able to pay or be served at a specific time without feeling rushed or stressed.
Of course, there will always be a place for traditional checkouts operated by human assistants. To make sure they work as efficiently as possible, an effective wayfinding system is needed to guide shoppers logically through the store towards a carefully managed checkout queue. Barriers, supported by clear signage, remain one of the best ways to move people from one area to another and avoid any of the confusion that could be distressing to a vulnerable customer. It’s important that any barrier system does not create unnecessary obstacles for people who have a visual impairment and/or limited mobility.
Signage plays an important role in other areas of the store too. Recently, Morrisons became the first supermarket to introduce signs for its disabled toilets, highlighting the ‘invisible’ nature of conditions like bowel disease. One in every 250 people in the UK suffers from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (UC) and a simple, cost-effective move like this makes shopping immeasurably more comfortable for those who may otherwise have been reluctant to visit the store.
Most retailers make it clear on their company websites and mission statements that they are proud to be accessible to all. From disabled parking bays to ensuring staff are on hand to help with shopping, they recognise the value of unlocking the ‘purple pound’ and strive to be seen to be socially conscious. People are now living longer, and with many of us wanting to retain our independence for as long as possible, retailers must be ready to make further improvements by integrating self-service machines with manned checkouts and using data to manage staffing resource in line with demand.