Check out the check-out

Old fashioned cash register

By Bruce Williams

I spend a lot of time in grocery stores. Compared to other types of retail stores, I spend by far the most time in grocery stores. I’m a bit of a food nerd. I like to cook, and I like to shop every day. Planning a week ahead just isn’t in my DNA.

I’m like everyone else though in the way I shop at hardware stores, building supply retailers, clothing stores, specialty shops etc. I find the experience differs when it comes time to pay according to the type of store.

If you’re having a one-on-one experience with someone who is helping you make your purchase decision like clothing, electronics or furniture, it might be that person who takes you to the cash register or till to close the sale. However, in most circumstances whether you were assisted by a staff member or not you’re dealing with a separate person, a cashier, when it’s time to pay.

Often, especially if you went shopping knowing exactly what you were looking for, the cashier is your sole personal contact with the store. The experience at time of payment can tell you a lot about the character of the company taking your money.

I had a check-out experience recently where two staff people were staffing a cash register, scanning items and ringing people through. One was the scanner, the other the bagger. I bag my own stuff, so that freed up the bagger. They were deeply involved in an animated conversation about someone. At no point was there a hello or an acknowledgement of me from either one. The first word spoken was to tell me how much money they wanted. The debit machine was handed over in my general direction as the scanner’s head stayed turned away. Then my receipt was dangled in front of me as their conversation continued. I will never shop in that store again.

We all know stores where the person taking your money is friendly, cheerful, diligent, efficient and alert. There are far too many places where it’s just a job for them. I understand and respect that these are not high paying jobs, but even at that level some operations understand the value of personal contact. They understand how to create a pleasant experience for customers who are handing them their hard-earned money.

I think it also offers a chance for the employee to take some pride in the relationship with the shoppers who enable their employment. That cashier job may also be an entry point for them into higher engagement with the company. I really value the culture of companies who understand that and always see employees as a potential part of their future.

There are so many little things that matter when it comes time to pay. A friend of mine spent years in retail and customer service. He told me about explicit instructions given for how to give someone their change in a cash transaction. Coins into the shopper’s hand first, then lay paper money on top. No exceptions. Why? Because often the coins will slip and tumble off the paper bills while you handle it.

Simple? Yes.

Smart? Absolutely.

 Customer-friendly? No question.

A little thing, but a fundamental part of creating a positive experience when handing over your money. After all, success in business is about taking in money. Sustained success is about continuing that process.

The transaction is what the seller wants, and they want it to happen again and again. Payment is often the final point of contact with their business culture before you head out the door. Make sure they deserve your continued business.

Retail owners, this is where mystery shoppers are worth the investment. Understanding how a stranger to your store experiences interacting with your staff is an integral part of your success or lack thereof. You must ensure your staff is engaged, happy and knowledgeable. Ideally, they feel they are an important stakeholder in your business and are empowered to provide the level of customer service that is crucial to success.

As a consumer, pay attention when you pay. As a store owner, pay attention to those transactions. Check out the check-out.

Photo by Ramiro Mendes on Unsplash.