For a retail store, users are frequently complaining about long queues during check out. How would you go about coming up with a strategy to improve the experience in short term and long term?
+2 votes

4 Answers

+3 votes

Let's clarify the question first. 

Is it a particular retail store or a chain of a store: Lets says a particular local grocery store.

Does the store have self-checkout: Yes

Is the wait time long for self-checkout or counter checkout: Both

When do users complain the most (time?): Evening 

Identify Personas 

* Users with cash: carrying 5 items or less OR 5 items or more

* Users with card: carrying 5 items or less OR 5 items or more

Report Needs

Enhance the user experience by reducing the complaint from users (considering we are providing the solution for the users mentioned in the above category) about long queues during checkout 

SolutionImpact to usersComplexityCost to business
Provide estimate wait time so that the user has the clear info and decide if they want to come back againHighLow (store already has the data based on the history)Medium
Provide snacks (something from the in-house bakery) to enhance their user experience Medium (There is still a wait but the users will be happy with the free snacks)LowLow
Staff people who would go to the users waiting in the line with the credit card and charge them via the card processor HighLow (the tech already exists)High (more staff + cost of the card processor)
Improve checkout process by giving cashless experience - tie-up with google wallet / paypal HighLowMedium
Introduce membership service - allow users to drop off the items in their cart at the counter and select a delivery time; the store staff will charge their card registered in the system (offline) and deliver the items at the time specified by the userHighHigh (need to build a system for membership)Medium
Build an app for online grocery shopping and delivery HighHighHigh

Based on above as a short term solution, I would go with 1 , 2 & 4

For Long term 4 & 5 could be combined for a better user experience 

by (151 points)
Great answer. Enjoyed reading how well you described the ideas and evaluated your options. This will impress the interviewer.
0 votes

Drilling down the problem statement of queue, why queue happens? The answer would be very simple! It's because demand is very high(items that need to be billed) and supply(POS machines) are limited. So the probable solution could be : 

1. The store would need more POS machines 

  • Either stationary or mobile, POS machines will consume more space, human resource and financial burden

2. What if we enable each customer to self checkout

  • Build a platform(preferably an app) that has in-build POS machine
  • Once someone scan the barcode, it should give all the latest offers on that product
  • The customer pays online via net banking or wallets and an e-bill is generated
  • The customer can easily checkout without any queue 

3. Depending on the proportion of digital vs non-digital payment users,  solving issues for digital users(or any one set) can lead to decrease in overall queue.

by (13 points)
Hi Rish,
I suggest you first ask more clarifying questions such as when the queue exists. Is it in certain hours or all the time? Is it seasonal, recent, or ongoing? Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you can brainstorm a few solutions. Make sure that after brainstorming is done, you evaluate your solutions and compare them against each other via some criteria such as the one done by garima above. And in the end, always always give a quick summary of how you derived your solution.
0 votes

Clarifying Questions:

What type of retail store? Phone retailer

How many checkout stations are currently there? 2

Are there any self checkout stations? No

Do they have an online store? No

Identifying the Users/ Observations:

Ages 18 - 45 (most likely to shop online in order to avoid long queues, if retailer had an online store)

Ages 45+ (most likely to shop in store to physically feel and test the products before buying)

User needs:

- Easier and faster way to checkout in order to avoid long queues

Short Term Solutions:

1. Hire additional checkout personnels: 

          - Benefit: Decrease long queues 

          - Tradeoffs: Increasing hiring cost 

2. Adding self checkout stations:

         - Benefit: Decrease long queues, Cost efficient in the long run

         - Tradeoffs: Installation costs, May deter less tech savvy users (45+)

Long Term Solutions:

3. Creating an online store (web/mobile) for users to review and buy products:

              - Benefits: Decrease long queues, Create another avenue for users to buy products (esp. for users 18-45) 

              - Tradeoffs: Development & maintenance cost for retailer, shipping costs for users

4. Create a self checkout mobile app for users to scan and checkout products using mobile payment (Apple pay/Google Pay) or CC in-store:

             - Benefits: Decrease long queues, cost effective in the long run

             - Tradeoffs: Development & Maintenance costs, may alienate less tech savvy customers

Best Solutions:

Short Term: 

#2 - Adding self checkout stations

Long Term:

Combination of #3 & #4 - Creating an online store with self in store checkout as a feature

0 votes

For a retail store, users are frequently complaining about long queues during check out. How would you go about coming up with a strategy to improve the experience in short term and long term?

Clarifying Goals: Why should we care?

1. Users being dissatisfied with the checkout experience might stop being loyal customers. 

2. What is the source of these complains? - Let us assume these are daily reports of organization employees, in-store surveys that checkout time has increased to the extent that this is a real problem

3. Do we know how much the time has increased and how does it compare with average store experience? - the time based on informal surveys and instore measurements has increased upto 15% or more. It is unclear what the impact on customer retention is. 

4. Do we know if there are days of the week where we have a checkout bottleneck? - for e.g. Saturday, Sunday are usually busier? - no, the wait time seems to have been unpredictable.

5. Do we know if the number of customers we are processing through checkout has increased over normal trends? - no, the number of customers have not increased.

6. Do we know if there are any other events / product introduced recently after which the checkout times have increased? - no, nothing extraordinary has happened.

7. How has our checkout capacity has changed over the last few months? - not much, same number of people

8. Has the average order size increased that might lead to longer checkout time?

Summarizing, the checkout problem:

The number of customers have not changed much, the number of items per order has not changed. So the checkout load has not changed much. The number of checkout gates provided has not changed either, so the processing capacity has not changed much. Therefore, something in the process of checkout has changed - either in the type of items being processed, how they are being processed. 

Tier 1 Metrics: Customers processed / hour, Customer Average Wait Time, Average Order Size per customer

Tier 2 Metrics: Order mix (types of items)

Investigating root causes, we might potentially find a few indications to the problem such as:

1. Customers are purchasing more vegetables --> implies that manual checkout is used by customers for these items

2. Register is finding defective items such as items missing price tag or bar code not working --> implies manual look up

3. The number of returns per customer has increased substantially --> registers have not traditionally handled returns and have to get help from managers to process RMAs

The problems fall into the following types:

1. A processing function has a defect

2. A processing function is becoming a bottlenect due to change in the mix of items

3. A processing function has had to process things that it is poorly equipped to handle

Solutions could generally be:

1. Add more capacity for processing 

2. Optimize current processing 

3. Add new processing capacity 

4. Set/reset customer expectations 

Depending on the type of problem and how long it takes to fix, we can recommend different short term and long term solutions:

For e.g. root cause #1, customers are purchasing more vegetables due to better pricing. Is a good thing for business. This is not going to change shortly, at least the business hopes not. Short term - Add additional store clerks to help with increased load, Long Term - create new packaged vegetables tagged with bar code / pricing to ease auto checkout, Improve self-checkout counters to add vegetable catalog, weighing and checkout process.

For e.g. root cause #2 - register is finding defective items - this is unexpected defect in the process. Short term - identify items with higher than average defect rates, sweep through store inventory, arrange for new suppliers to supplement stock. Long term - strengthen in-house quality control and supplier requirements 

For e.g. root cause #3 - returns per customer has increased substantially --> short term - create dedicated temporary returns registers to ease load on main checkout, long term - monitor return rates to automatically prepare stores for increase in returns

Finally - problem agnostic long term, 

1. customers standing and waiting in queue is a poor experience. Customers are much happier if they are prepared mentally for the queue time and staging. A simple token based experience can be implemented where people are called up to a checkout based on their token number.

2. create online pickup experience for commonly ordered items so that most customers can avoid waiting in  queue.

3. create online concierges who can fulfill an order and deliver it

4. Implement metrics to measure checkout experience as above, and leading metrics to predict checkout problems  





by (73 points)
Your name to display (optional):
Privacy: Your email address will only be used for sending these notifications.
To avoid this verification in future, please log in or register.
Your name to display (optional):
Privacy: Your email address will only be used for sending these notifications.
To avoid this verification in future, please log in or register.