Faster Help For Holiday Customers

By J. Lynne Lombardi

Help for CustomersNews flash! Americans are impatient! We don’t want to wait 30 seconds for our computers to boot up, or take five minutes to get out of our cars to get our Big Macs. We want everything fast, and that includes checking out at our favorite retail establishments. So how do you make that requirement work in your favor as you gear up for the busy shopping season?

Barcoding inventory

The top recommendation is to barcode your inventory. Any and everything that can hold a barcode label should have one. When your customers come to check out, the POS clerk should be able to scan the barcodes, take their payment, package their purchases, and help the next customer. Barcoding not only speeds check out, but also has the added bonus of keeping your inventory accurate. It assures you that the right items are being paid for and taken out of inventory. 

Integrated credit card solution

Help for CustomersAfter barcoding, the next important step to speed up checkout would be to have an integrated credit card system. Integrated credit card processing means the credit card is swiped directly into your POS register, not swiped in a system outside of your register (called a Zon Machine). Why is this so important? To process a credit card on a Zon machine, the clerk first has to ring the ticket up in the POS system. They then stop, turn (or take a few steps), and swipe the customer’s card into the Zon. The amount has to be manually typed in, and then the clerk has to wait for the machine to return with an authorization code, and then print two receipts. The clerk then turns (or takes a few steps) and hands the slip to the customer for their signature, finishes the transaction in the POS system, prints off the POS receipts, and staples the credit card receipt to the POS receipts, and hands both to the customer. What’s the extra time needed for this process? Between 60 and 90 seconds. That doesn’t sound all that bad until you understand the overall productivity loss from this procedure.

Let’s say you are doing one million in sales with an average ticket of $62.50, and 75 percent of all your sales are credit card transactions. That means you are handling 12,000 credit card transactions each year, which at a scant 60 seconds per credit card slip, represents 200 hours a year! Doubt the math? Time a credit card transaction on a Zon machine, and you will find that 60 seconds is conservative. It is a huge waste of time, and during the holidays, three people in line means that the last person is waiting three extra minutes for just your credit card processing. If a customer is the fourth in line, they may not even wait. Every retailer knows that during the holidays, many people will walk in, look at the lines and walk out. Don’t add minutes to your customers’ shopping experience with a separate credit card machine.


If available in your POS system (and most have this feature), implement Touchscreens. Why does this make a difference? First, POS clerks learn faster and can process tickets more quickly on a Touchscreen. The days of a keyboard driven system that requires you to remember Alt+F2 as a command on a POS system should be long gone. Shorter training times and higher retention of information means more productive time in the store stocking the shelves, and focusing on customer service. A touchscreen should also allow you to set up “buttons” for items in inventory that can’t be barcoded. Services and items sold in bulk (neither can be barcoded) are two examples of how a “button” can help speed up the customer’s experience.

Employee training

The last item is, unfortunately, the most often overlooked one, and that is employee training.  No matter how long your POS system has been deployed, you will have new clerks working during the holidays. Make sure they have a “sample” or “play” company set up in your system, and they are comfortable with all the common things they are going to be asked to do. Other tasks include:

  • Make sure they know how (or if) you take a personal check.
  • How to ask customers for a different form of payment if a credit card is declined. 
  • How to void a line on a ticket if customers change their minds about something during checkout.
  • How to sell a gift card.
  • How to print a gift receipt.

These may seem obvious, but new clerks (and sometimes old ones) need to be “refreshed” on all the basics. Don’t lose a sale because a clerk is asked to do something that they’ve simply forgotten how to do quickly. Most retailers will make at least 40 percent of their overall revenue in 60 days. The holidays will determine if your bottom line is green or red.  Don’t lose a single dollar of sales because your checkout was slow. Here’s to a happy, healthy and checkout fast holiday season.