Yesterday, we looked at how Disney was taking on lines; today, Home Depot is up. Fast Company has a brief article on what the home-improvement chain is doing to keep customers moving through its stores (Home Depot Innovates Customer Checkouts, Apr 16). The article points to four things (which are numbered on the diagram below):
- PLASTIC ON THE FLY
- SCAN NOW, PAY LATER
- LEAVE YOUR WALLET IN THE CLOUD
- SEE YOURSELF OUT
So I must admit that I might be less impressed with what they are doing than Fast Company’s headline writer. “Plastic on the fly” refers to enabling some floor personnel (but not everyone) to take a credit card. So if you are out in the garden department, the person helping you pick out a shrub may be able to ring you up. Said another way, they have copped something from the Apple store.
“Scan now, pay later” is a little more innovative. Associates can scan the contents of a shoppers cart while they wait for a proper cashier. The scanner cannot take the payment but they will give the customer a card which they hand to the cashier. All that is left at that point is just the payment. I don’t know of any national retailer that has such a program, but as Gady posted about over two years ago, Hannaford Brothers (a supermarket chain in New England) has experimented with similar “queue buster” technology.
The last two points refers to letting customers pay via Pay Pal and self-service checkout. On the latter point, they have supposedly updated their system to make it more intuitive and have cut processing times by 30%. All that is nice, but I am not sure how innovative all this is.
I perhaps should not be too dismissive of Home Depot’s efforts. They are doing multiple things along different dimensions to improve customer service. However, I am not sure what the overall impact will be. Take paying for purchases out in departments. That’s great if you manage to engage an associate. But in my experience, those associates are few and far between so extending their interactions with one customer (so they can take their payment) means that another customer is delayed in getting basic information. Further, it creates an inconsistent customer experience. Why can the associate in lawn and garden ring me up but the plumbing guy can’t?
The roaming associate totaling up purchases of waiting customers may be more promising but it also makes one wonder if this is better than just opening up another till. If all tills are open, then this is clearly a winner. But if there is an unused lane with a register, having one more register open would seem to spread out customers among more queues and speed service.