Safe Guidance

How retailers can improve checkout queues and store traffic flow to protect customers and staff.

September 18, 2020

This interview was brought to you with support from Lavi Industries, a NACS member. Lavi-Logo-Dark_300.png

ALEXANDRIA, VA.—For convenience retailers, getting customers in and out of stores quickly is more important than ever amid ongoing concerns about COVID-19. NACS Magazine recently interviewed Perry Kuklin, Director of Marketing, Lavi Industries, about ways convenience retailers can manage store traffic flow and checkout queues to enhance safety and generate revenue.

Q: Queuing is an often under-considered element of c-store operations and can be the last thought for many retailers when building a store. Why should retailers pay more attention to line management?

A: The checkout queue is one of the most highly visible customer touchpoints in the store. Customers typically experience its effect as soon as they walk inside, sometimes even before. An unplanned, unorganized waiting line can wreak havoc on the customer’s experience and the retailer’s bottom line. An unmanaged queue can impact profits by causing waiting customers to block access to profitable merchandise or areas, confuse and frustrate customers as they try to figure out who’s next in line, and even cause customers to leave without purchasing, rather than deal with a long wait.

On the other hand, a well-planned checkout queue—one that accounts for the ebb and flow of traffic—can prevent serious bottlenecks at the store entrance and other key areas, improving customer flow throughout the store space. Implementing queue management best practices, such as a single-line queue, can improve efficiency, reducing both real and perceived wait times, ultimately increasing customer satisfaction. It also has the added benefit of enabling in-queue impulse merchandising, which can very easily turn the checkout line into a profit center for the retailer.

This small area—the checkout queue—really does have a large, lasting impact on a retailer’s business. Paying attention to it and leveraging its opportunities can improve the customer experience and increase profits.

Q: Now, more than ever, managing the flow of customers into and within a store is critical, in particular, for health and safety.

A: Yes, in these unprecedented times it is critical for businesses to take proactive steps to safeguard the health and safety of their customers and employees. Public guidance and queue management systems play an important role in enabling safe interactions at every stage of the customer journey.

Customers waiting outside to enter the store should have a clear indication of where and how to wait. Outdoor stanchions, sign stands and floor stickers help keep customers at safe distances and informed of store protocols. Once inside, visual cues such as floor stickers and signage reinforce physical distancing, and sneeze guards keep customers and employees safe where physical distancing is not possible. As an example, our Queue Guard® acrylic protective barriers sit atop our merchandising fixtures, enabling retailers to maximize the physical space for queues by providing a shield from people standing or walking in adjacent aisles.

Equally important is clear and concise messaging that helps customers identify the checkout queue and reinforce physical distancing protocols. This not only helps reduce customer confusion and frustration but also eases the burden on employees to remind customers of store policies.

Q: And it’s not just about checkout lines—anywhere customers congregate in your stores is an opportunity to manage customer flow and generate revenue, is that right?

A: Exactly. There are many areas, both in and out of the store, that can benefit. Tight spaces such as dining and prepared food areas can be outfitted with sneeze guards or protective barriers to maximize capacity and improve safety for customers and employees. Beverage bars, kiosks and prepared food areas can benefit from mobile merchandising fixtures to generate additional revenue. Outdoor signage and retractable belt stanchions can provide high-visibility messaging and help customers quickly identify parking spaces reserved for curbside pickup.

Additionally, technology solutions can be employed to remove the physical line completely. These solutions work well in limiting and regulating the number of customers in the store at any given time. They’re also a good solution for order-ahead, takeout or table reservations in a dining area.

With virtual queuing technology, customers add themselves to a waiting line by scanning a QR code or sending a text message with their smartphone. They can then wait for service outside, or in the safety and comfort of their car, tracking their wait on their phone. When it’s their turn, they receive an alert or text with instructions. This contactless queuing technology can be integrated into a businesses’ online ordering or curbside pickup system. There’s even an appointment and scheduling feature that allows customers to make advance reservations.

Q: We’ve all learned that the external environment and customer preferences can change any time. How can you help retailers be nimble enough to accommodate any new challenge?

A: We’ve been helping companies safely control crowds and guide people in, through and out of their facilities for over 40 years. We understand how essential it is for today’s product solutions to be able to meet tomorrow’s demands, so we build flexibility into everything we make. For example, the same stanchion used for queuing is also used for merchandising fixtures, signage systems and Queue Guard® protective panels, providing a modular solution that enables companies to repurpose systems as their needs change. And all these solutions integrate seamlessly, creating a holistic system that works across the entire customer journey. As a manufacturer and software developer, we’re able to quickly respond to specific customer needs, creating solutions as unique as each individual company we service.

This interview, "Safe Guidance," was featured in the September 2020 issue of NACS Magazine.