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June 3, 2013

Innovating a Better Way Through The Checkout Line

Posted by Anup Uppadhayay (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:43 AM

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During my last London trip, a friend cajoled me to accompany her to Selfridge. "Let me show you the London you've never seen before. Let me show you what High Street shopping is all about." she said. And, as London often tempts me to do - I found myself digging into a bit of the store's history.

Back in 1909, when Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his store, he introduced to the British consumer a new idea: that the act of shopping could be a fun activity. In fact, King Edward VII, curious about everything he'd been hearing about this retail revolution, showed up at the store one evening and told Selfridge that he'd never bought anything in a store in his life - but that he would do so that evening because "that's where society seemed to be going." Bright displays, helpful salesmen, and fanciful store windows filled with merchandise: these are all staples of the modern department store. But they were quite revolutionary back in 1909.

This got me thinking that today's consumers are in the midst of a similar retail revolution. Like the British king said a century ago: Whether you know it or not, it's where the world seems to be going.

Today's consumers have heightened expectations, especially given the fact that the Internet is supposed to make everything we do easier, faster, and more efficient. Retailers have to meet a high bar for exemplary service lest disenchanted customers take to social media and complain about particular stores and salesmen.

In fact, at Infosys, we have re-thought the entire customer service proposition. Instead of creating the perception that customers are receiving faster service, we are devising ways to make their entire shopping experience more fulfilling. For instance, we focus on the point of sale (POS). Doing so shows that innovation doesn't have to be a seismic event; it can result in a combination of improving small things we experience every day.

A near-perfect shopping experience can be ruined if, at the very end of a customer's time in a store, she finds herself waiting in a long checkout line. Think about the times you've been helped by a friendly and knowledgeable salesman only to be annoyed at standing for 20 minutes in a queue. What we noticed is that a helpful salesman can often be an unused asset.

Here's what I mean. Our Mobile POS solution takes into consideration a number of factors, not the least of which are the pressures that retailers face in finding the best ways to utilize technology and serve customers. Armed with an iPad, a salesman can finish the transaction, process the credit card, print out a receipt, and bag your purchases. All without you ever having to go near a checkout counter, much less wait in line.

It's a new way of thinking about the customer experience that's not unlike what Harry Gordon Selfridge did 100 years ago. Closer to our own age, it's what the drive-through window managed to accomplish. About 30 years ago, some of the largest and most efficient fast food chains completely re-thought how they delivered their product. You could drive up to an intercom, place your order from your car, and drive up to window where the meal would be wrapped up and ready to go. What I love about the concept of the drive-through window is that it's an innovation that wasn't limited to fast food chains. The drive-through window suited financial services firms as well.

Now, what if I told you the Mobile POS solution can drive nearly half the sales in a store within the first six months of deploying it? Plus, there's no specialized training needed for the staff. If I were a storeowner I would, of course, celebrate with a trip to the drive-through: French fries for everyone!

But jokes and French fries aside, I've noticed more stores - from purveyors of luxury goods to discount clothing chains - beginning to adopt this sales approach. Old man Selfridge would no doubt be impressed.

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