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The most important retail space

Earlier today, I stopped by Office Depot to pick up some office supplies. Items in hand, I approached the cash registers at the front of the store to check out. There were two customers in line ahead of me. The first customer, after the cashier began entering her order, realized that she had forgotten paperclips.

While she left to retrieve them, I stood in line waiting behind the customer in front of me. Since I had time on my hands, I took the opportunity to count the number of visible Office Depot employees and available cash registers. I counted six employees including the cashier and three cash registers. Moments later, the first customer in line reappeared with a box of paperclips and completed her transaction.

By the time the customer in front of me had checked-out, a full five minutes had elapsed from the time I joined the line to the time I received my receipt and left the store. That’s too long to wait when there are six employees and three cash registers in view of waiting customers.

Cynics will say, “But Steve, these employees are not all cashiers. They may perform other job functions. Perhaps they are stockers, work in the print services area, or are managers with other store responsibilities. After all, there’s 20,000 square feet of retail space to manage.”

After listening thoughtfully, my response will still be, “So what?”

Most reasonable customers are willing to tolerate waiting. That’s what we customers do, right? We wait on hold, we wait in lines, and we wait for our dinner checks to arrive at the table. It seems like, as customers, we’ve come to accept that waiting is just part of the process. And while we tolerate waiting, we should not tolerate waiting unnecessarily.

The opportunity for Office Depot and other businesses is to cross-train employees whose primary job functions may include printing, stocking, or ordering, to operate cash registers and then cross-utilize these employees to reduce unnecessary delays in serving customers.

So what if the store manager has 20,000 square feet of retail space to manage? What really matters is what happens in the 200 square feet by the cash registers.

Illustration: Aaron McKissen

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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