Nov 16 | 8 min read

The Line Ends Here, The Labor Doesn’t: How Line Elimination Unleashes Employee Productivity and Value

Discover why eliminating in-store customer lines enhances the value of your labor and how to solve lines and labor challenges at scale.

Aila Staff

Within the retail landscape, the fight to remain relevant, competitive, and profitable is becoming increasingly challenging for larger retail businesses, particularly those relying on traditional operating models that don’t speak to modern-day customer demands. We’re talking about old-fashioned customer lines and outdated labor structures. Lines and labor are the two universal problems all retail enterprises face, and yet many don’t recognize the risks they pose.

It’s understandable. If you’ve operated up to a certain point on an existing model and it’s taken you this far, you would assume it’s the solution, not the problem. You have a system that seems to work fine as is, so why change it? Also, after reaching a certain size, the idea of changing can sound daunting and a headache-in-waiting to oversee. 

However, studies have shown time and again that lines cut into retail earnings because customers hate waiting in line. So much so that 25% of customers stated that they’d only wait a maximum of two minutes in a line to make a purchase, while 73% said they’d abandon their purchase if they had to wait for five minutes. 

That begs the question: just how much are lines really costing you?

That’s just one piece of the inefficiency puzzle. Employee disengagement remains high according to Gallup, with only 32% of American employees being engaged at work while 18% are actively disengaged. Employee disengagement is particularly high in the retail sector with studies finding that only 38% of retail workers report finding meaning in their work and 44% saying they plan to stay with their employer in the long term. 

Disengaged, mentally checked-out employees are less focused and less motivated and can cost their organization between $228 and $355 million a year in lost productivity. Over 5 years, that’s more than $1 billion of lost value. 

The writing’s on the wall: “lines and labor” no longer align with the evolving retail landscape, one where customers demand faster, more personalized digital experiences and employees looking for greater variety and diversity in their roles. 

Lines and labor have themselves become legacy systems, bound to an outdated retail business model that leaves customers frustrated and employees exhausted and disengaged. It’s time for a massive overhaul of lines and labor within in-store retail operating contexts. Your future efficiency gains, earnings, employees, and (most importantly ) customers will thank you. 

Let’s quickly dispel a persistent myth while we’re at it – getting rid of your customer lines doesn’t erase your labor or make your staff obsolete. It’s the exact opposite. Eliminating customer lines will unlock even greater productivity and value from your staff in their roles, boosting their workplace satisfaction while elevating your customer experience. It’s a win on all fronts for your store. 

The line ends here, but the labor doesn’t. Here’s why. 

The (multi-lane) problem with lines

Let’s clarify what we mean when we talk about lines. Lines themselves are not the direct problem, it’s the type of lines and the way they’re utilized in stores that are the problem. We’re talking about checkout lines, query lines, return lines…the list is endless (and so is the line for it). More often than not, these lines converge into one large line that time-strapped customers are forced to stand in.

Lines contribute to a customer experience that’s the absolute antithesis of the kind of digital shopping experience they’ve grown used to, thanks to the rise of mobile and e-commerce shopping. 

Customers, who are used to making purchases, accessing services, and finding answers at the click of a button, are suddenly confronted with the unpleasant in-store reality that they have to wait in line to do what could be done in seconds online. It’s little wonder that global retailers are losing an estimated $37.7 billion annually thanks to long checkout lines. 

It doesn’t make sense from a customer experience perspective or a business perspective. 

Aside from eroding customer loyalty and frustrating in-store shoppers, these lines take up valuable space within your store – space that could be far better utilized. From an employee perspective, lines keep staff stuck in a loop of low-value tasks they’re assigned to, like manually checking out items and packing goods. 

The repetitive nature of the work breeds boredom, distraction, disengagement, and a lack of fulfillment and satisfaction in your employees. These feelings will translate into the kind of customer engagements and experiences they have with shoppers, giving shoppers even more reason to make a swift exit from your store, unlikely to return. It can also have a detrimental impact on staff turnover, driving up your turnover rates and placing even more pressure on your remaining staff managing lines and customer service.

Because your staff are preoccupied with overseeing these manual, menial tasks they have little to no opportunity to add value to a customer’s experience, including tailored recommendations, highly personalized assistance, or additional services that could increase customer spending. 

This is not the best use of their time and minimizes the value that they could be delivering while on the clock, and it also means that you’ll need to hire additional staff if you want to offer value-added services. 

Ultimately, most if not all problems relating to store growth, productivity, efficiency, customer loyalty, and earnings stem from lines – lines that keep your customers waiting and your staff stuck in an unproductive cycle. Eliminating traditional lines is the key to solving the challenges of lines and labor. 

The question is: how? How do you eliminate lines when lines play an integral role in the in-store retail experience? And what happens to your labor after the lines end?

Solving the lines and labor challenges at scale

The end of lines doesn’t spell the end of brick-and-mortar stores. It opens up a world of possibility and convenience to your customers, bringing the services they’re looking for to them. It means making your services simpler, more accessible, and convenient to shoppers. 

How do you do this at scale? It’s simple – replicate the kind of self-service experience shoppers are looking for, in store. Do this by deploying flexible  self-service kiosks at key locations throughout your retail stores, decentralizing your services in a simple but highly effective way. 

With self-service kiosks, retailers can digitize a range of experiences like self-checkout with cashless payments, drop-off and returns, smart fitting room, product discovery, gifting and loyalty program sign-ups, giving your shoppers instant access to the services they want, without the unnecessary and annoying need to wait. It erases the ‘one-service-one-queue’ legacy system of operating that holds retail stores back from evolving their in-store experiences. 

It gives your shoppers more agency and autonomy within your store by allowing them to access their preferred services quickly and efficiently, providing the kind of instant shopping experience they’ve come to expect.  

Solving the issues of lines paves the way to solving the issues of labor. Self-service kiosks also free up your employees’ time, allowing them to focus on bigger picture tasks and services that provide the kind of memorable experiences that customers are looking for when they visit a retail store. 

in-store returns

Does eliminating lines eliminate labor? Not at all, it increases employee value

Coming back to the long-held (and understandable) fear that self-service technology means replacing labor, it’s vital to understand that this is not the case. Your staff may understandably be concerned at the thought of an automated self-service system replacing them in their primary role. But this isn’t a replacement of labor, it’s a redirection of labor

Automating and decentralizing previously staffed services like checkout, returns scanning, and loyalty signups frees your employees from these tasks that contribute to their boredom and disengagement. It allows them to learn new skills, oversee higher-value customer experiences , and take on more diverse, value-added responsibilities. 

This is particularly important to retail stores looking to retain younger employees for longer. In a study, SHRM found that 75% of Generation Z employees will favor a job that allows them to take on multiple roles within one place of employment. 

Self-service kiosks give them the freedom to do just this, enriching their experience and improving their workplace satisfaction. 

Using the time they’d otherwise spend performing monotonous, manual tasks, your staff can focus on finessing customer engagements and communications, solving problems, and rolling out new services. Suddenly, offerings like agile fulfillment, picking and packing, and one-on-one customer recommendations become possible, profitable service offerings your staff can take on to increase customer spending and satisfaction. 

Eliminating lines doesn’t eliminate the value of your labor, it creates the space necessary to draw even greater value from it.

The line ends here 

Lines are ultimately barriers to much-needed growth and evolution within the retail space. Dismantling these lines and the barriers they create unlocks new service opportunities, labor value, employee productivity, and a seamless, satisfying customer experience. 

The key to success is being able to roll out self-service capabilities quickly and efficiently, preventing service bottlenecks from forming during the transition. 

Rather than locking yourself into the limited capabilities of the traditional, single-function kiosk, the better choice is to opt for a flexible self-service solution platform that’s ready-to-use  and software agnostic. Aila’s self-service platform offers flexible hardware, computer vision, software integration and managed services, that work together to deliver tailored experiences that work with your brand and store planograms, keeping your store agile and able to evolve. Flexibility, evolution and convenience are key to keeping up with customer expectations. With Aila’s unique self-service capabilities at the helm, it’s an easy, scalable feat for retail enterprises.


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