Insights

Drawing the Line: How Much Value is Sitting Unrealized inside Your Retail Store?

By Aila Staff

November 28, 2023

Delivering value within services and the customer experience forms an integral part of in-store retail operations. For medium to large retail chains, maximizing the value of their resources to do this, whether its stock, personnel, or space, remains a key challenge preventing them from pivoting in a more customer-centric operational direction. 

It’s not that retail stores lack the intention to evolve. It’s rather the legacy systems on which they’ve operated for decades that weigh down and stagger their ability to change – legacy systems that are fast becoming profit sinks as the retail landscape keeps transforming. It’s not just value lost that stores should be paying attention to (whether that’s abandoned purchases due to long checkout lines or staff attrition), but value sitting unrealized within the physical space of retail stores. 

The most significant example of unrealized in-store value is the enduring legacy of counters. Think checkout counters, inquiry counters, and returns counters. Any physical counters that need to be monitored and staffed at all times by in-store employees or associates. 

Compared to the compounding costs of staffing and operating fixed, static staff counters that take up an exorbitant amount of floor space, just how much value are you getting back in return? Sure, some might argue that counters are a necessity to provide essential customer services, like checkout, packing, and other services. 

But are these fixed, manual services tied to fixed counters really what your customers are after when they visit your store? We’d say no, given that studies have shown that 25% of customers say they’d wait no more than two minutes in an in-store line.

This brings us back to our original question: how much value are you really getting from the space, time, and cost you’re putting into managing fixed counters?

And, more importantly, how much value is sitting unrealized within the spaces these counters are occupying in your stores? What else could you be doing with all of that space?

It’s time to draw the line on unrealized in-store value 

When you take a closer look, it’s clear that the trade-off in value that counters provide as a fixed location for customer services is not worth its upkeep. counters centralize your services in one or two key, fixed locations, meaning that every customer looking to access a service has to delegate time to stand and wait in the inevitable lines that counters create.

This is the quickest route to customer dissatisfaction and plummeting profits for retail stores. Aside from creating barriers that prevent shoppers from easily accessing the services they want, keeping your services limited to a fixed location forces them to lose time in the process of doing so.

Staffing counters and providing routine, repetitive services is not an enjoyable experience for in-store retail employees. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the industries most affected by the burgeoning labor shortage crisis include wholesale and retail. Additionally, Forrester found that at least 63% of retailers were operating with a deficit of frontline employees at the start of 2023. 

It’s little wonder why, considering the long hours and workplace demands placed on retail workers. Physical counters need to be managed at all times by staff, placing additional pressure on them and even, at times, causing them to “location hop” between counters if the store is understaffed to meet customer needs. All of which drive up waiting times and drive down customer satisfaction even more.

When it comes to the age-old business model built on counters and fixed services in retail stores, cost and efficiency cannot co-exist. 

One will always outweigh the other eventually, keeping retail stores locked in an endless balancing act that leaves managers frazzled, staff exhausted and uninspired, and stores unable to unlock the value sitting unrealized in the space being occupied by counters.

Maximizing the inherent value of your store space and resources

If counters and fixed services are the problems creating the efficiency ceilings and conundrums retail chains of all sizes are facing, what’s the solution? Is the solution removing in-store physical counters? Yes, but not quite. It’s not just about removing counters, it’s about dismantling the idea that customer services have to be tied to counters. 

It’s an operational paradigm shift that’s long overdue in the retail landscape. It’s not enough to remove the counters, you also need to recognize that they’re no longer necessary to provide the services or kind of customer experience your shoppers are looking for. 

There’s a better, more efficient, and more cost-effective way to provide the essential in-store services your customers need — and it doesn’t require wall-to-wall counters and locking staff in low-value, repetitive labor tasks. 

Deploying simple, intuitive self-service kiosks around your store that are location-independent eliminates the need for fixed counters while providing customers with faster, easier access to the services they want. 

self-service for labor shortages

Self-service kiosks provide retail customers with every service they need at their fingertips, including self-checkout with cashless payments, scanning, packing, queries, drop-off and returns, product discovery, and gifting and loyalty program sign-ups. They act as counters but are mobile, more efficient and completely autonomous, making better use of your floor space.

Customers have more autonomy and freedom to access the services they want without having to waste time waiting in line. Employees can redirect their focus to providing higher-value services that enhance the customer experience. And retail stores can put the space formerly occupied by a desk to better use, maximizing its value. 

Here’s what you could be doing in place of a desk and daily manual services

Once you’ve eliminated the physical (and mental) barriers that counters present, the revenue and efficiency opportunities are practically unlimited. By and large, the biggest advantage that this additional space provides is the space for rolling out micro-fulfillment services, including agile and same-day shipping and collection directly from a retail store.

Aside from the obvious benefits of reducing shipping expenses and supply chain complexities, the consumer demand for speedy shipping and collection services is undeniable. Aside from the increasing demand for same-day and next-day shipping, nearly 60% of shoppers select BOPUS (buy online, pick up in-store) as their preferred fulfillment method. 

Stores that can offer the same agile shipping services that e-commerce businesses have perfected can compete and remain relevant in the evolving retail space.

It also presents ample upsell opportunities to your customers, both online and in-store. Customers can order and pay for an item from their mobile phones or directly from a self-service kiosk and either arrange to collect it themselves or pay an additional fee for same, next-day, or two-day delivery options. And they’re ready to pay more for it, with 65% of US shoppers being willing to pay more for speedier shipping options. 

It’s time to draw the line

Retail stores that can offer agile shipping, which includes space for storing, picking, and packing, can increase sales revenue and meet customer expectations for speedy shipping options. 

All of this is possible with the help of self-service kiosks, taking the pressure off your staff and freeing up time and space to devote to value-added services that enhance in-store earnings. A self-service platform like Aila lets you roll out in-store self-service capabilities at scale, leveraging flexible hardware, computer vision, software integration, and managed services. 

Together, Aila’s capabilities deliver a superior customer experience consistently and without interruption and free up valuable in-store time and space to develop competitive, value-added services and experiences. 

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