No one likes to be kept waiting, especially a customer. Checking-out is an experience just as important as a customer entering your store; you want to make great first and last impressions so your customers keep coming back.

Whole Food Supermarkets uses an incredibly efficient system of queue management in some of their highest volume stores. In their Union Square location, for instance, there are a dozen lines of different colors in front of a large group of registers, each one equipped with a number and a light. Customers are instructed to stand in one of the lines and wait for their color to be called, paired with the number of the next available cashier. Once a transaction is complete, the light goes on above the register, and a hanging screen flashes that number with the chosen colored line as the background. The average wait time is no more than a few minutes no matter how many groceries a customer may be buying.

Your store may not be able to afford what Whole Foods can, but there are some simple ways you can invest in to add speed and efficiency to your check-outs.

1. Add more registers. Even in the smallest vitamin shops, lines are inevitable when the store only has one register. For every additional register added to your counter is a customer who waited less in line, and will appreciate and remember the quick check-out. Consider installing self-checkouts if your store is often too busy for a few cashiers to handle. These may seem impersonal, but with customers checking themselves out, your employees have more time to walk around the store and give one-on-one assistance to your customers as they are shopping, giving your employees the opportunity to suggest and sell more products. Shoppers will love the check-out options and still get face-time with you and your staff.

2. Encourage impulse buying with free samples. Surround your registers and waiting lines with shelves of small, less pricey products customers will notice as they make their way to the counter. Snacks can be especially popular, along with a cooler of water at the foot of the counter. Place pamphlets and product advertisements in reach of the waiting customers so they have something to read and consider buying on their next trip. A more personal approach to impulse buying is free sampling. Don’t choose a costly product that requires the opening of several bags or boxes; a bread or pastry can be cut into small, but plentiful pieces, and customers will enjoy being given something, even a small taste, for free. Make sure to have packages of the product next to the sampling plate to encourage more impulse buying.

3. Offer baggers and a carry-out service. Sometimes older or distracted customers take their time with bagging and collecting their packages, while others buy too much to bring out of the store by themselves in one shot. Instead of leaving your customers to load up their arms and struggle to get everything out of the store in one piece, have employees on hand to bag and carry out the purchases for those who may need the help. You reduce the wait time for the next person in line to begin bagging their items and relieve customers of having to bring the bags out themselves while providing a great service your customers will surely appreciate.

4. Take outside orders. Whether your store offers food, supplements or both, allow customers to place orders on the phone with the intent on picking them up later, and set the items aside at the register. This way, the customer can just walk in, go straight to the counter, and leave with exactly what they needed right away. Some people have a difficult time searching for one specific brand of product and don’t want to waste their day with looking for something that you may not even carry; these customers will be relieved to know they are in capable hands with you and your employees. WF

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2012 (online 11/22/11)