Have you heard the urban myth about how the Americans spent tens of millions on designing a pen that would be able to write in zero gravity for the first trip to the moon – and the Russians issued pencils? This lolly-free check-out has a similar ring to it. But let’s begin at the beginning:
It is (say) March 1995 and a few executives go on a strategic reconnoitre of Europe or the States, where they see a confectionery free check-out at a Tesco. Out come the digital cameras and before long there is a report on someone’s desk with some ‘Feedback from the European Retail Tour’.
A year (or two) later, allowing time for market research, a few dozen design iterations, focus group testing, and some financial modelling to assess the loss of sales/margin on the impulse items; the first check-out is rolled out in a rural Safeway concept store. It seems like a good idea and Woolworths soon follows.
The idea gets momentum, and is soon part of every new store. But it seems to me there are many reasons why it is not necessarily a bright idea:
- How long will it take a 5-year old to figure out that (s)he should be getting the lollies before the check-out or at a different check-out?
- Is the impulse item at the till really the cause of the tantrums? And could moving the temptation 2 feet away solve the ‘problem’?
- How many parents will stand in a line at the designated check-out, whilst another checkout is free? How will those parents feel when they stand there?
- How will the parents feel about other customers (without children) who use the ‘no-tantrums check-out’, whilst they could have used another register just as readily? (Trolley rage coming to a supermarket near you soon…)
- Is Woolworths not creating expectations that every supermarket will have that check-out – and not be able to meet those expectations?
- Is Woolworths sending out a message to their customers that they care about their individual needs, or are they saying: ‘your kid is that annoying; we will rather sacrifice some money to get you out of the store with a minimum of fuss, than deal with it.’
- How do you schedule your (only) two cashiers during the low demand period? Will there always be someone on that register, or will the parent-with-naughty-child be disappointed more often than not because the till is unmanned?
- Isn’t there a missed opportunity to touch the customer’s life by helping them in a small way with the ‘annoying’ child? I know it is a supermarket, and they think they don’t have time to actually help a customer in that way, but maybe, just maybe they are wrong… I am thinking: how about an emergency jar of sugar-free, nut-free, healthy snacks (or gifts) at every register, for those ‘special’ moments? It seems a lot easier to roll out than the innovative alternative, and if the local dentist can afford it, I am sure Woolworths could – or make a supplier do it.
- Are parents with (naughty) children the biggest customer segment that leaves a supermarket dissatisfied about something? (I.e. was this the most important problem to solve?)
This is not Woolies bashing, just a few contrary thoughts; and hey, give them credit for trying and for rolling out new(ish) initiatives. If they weren’t failing it would mean they weren’t trying new stuff. At least they are not resting on their laurels now that the opponent is on the floor…