How to get customers queuing less and shopping more

If you search Twitter for “[any major retailer] + returns” you’ll be greeted with a stream of complaints. That’s not surprising – everyone knows that getting on social to air your grievances is a quick way to get some attention from a customer service team. What is interesting is the way certain complaints come up again and again, across retailers. Specifically, customers are fed up of queuing to give back returns. Whether it’s a lost lunch hour or just twenty minutes spent in line, waiting to get up to the till only to be told returns have to be processed at a separate counter is a painful experience.

Now retailers have been dealing with queues since the concept of retail was invented, and a huge amount of innovation, research and investment has gone towards reducing queuing or ameliorating its psychological impact on shoppers. There are whole fields of study about human behaviour in queues. For example, psychologists say that we tend prefer a queue that moves consistently to one which stops for long periods – even if the moving queue is actually slower overall. The part of the queue immediately preceding our checkout is the most important and the part we really remember.

How self-service disrupts the current checkout model for returns

In retail, innovation has taken us from simple cash registers to electronic tills with contactless payments, stock tracking, point of sale systems, self-checkout, and even cashier-less store concepts. At Doddle, we realised that we could expand these learnings to returns as well as sales, which lead us to create our self-service returns pod.

The principle is similar to self-checkouts, except where many retailers in non-food or grocery verticals avoid using self-checkout on the basis of loss prevention, self-service returns does not have any added risk of fraud, which means it’s more flexible across categories and minimises the need for constant staff attention.

Making the most of the in-store return

At its core, the main reasons for offering returns in store is to give customers a convenient way to drop their return, in an environment where the experience is in the retailer’s control, and to increase the likelihood that the customer will purchase something else after they return a product. However, the current state of affairs in many stores means that if this journey is to happen, the customer must stand in a queue for the returns desk, wait to have their return processed, then after queuing go around the shop and pick something out, then queue again to purchase at a separate desk.

One queue is enough for most customers. That means losing revenue from potential purchases because customers don’t want to queue again.

Self-service returns is a way to give customers the power to avoid queuing. It combines with a digital returns experience to let customers book a return in advance, then simply scan a barcode from their phone to open the pod and drop their return. Alternatively, they use the touchscreen to pop in their details, take the label the pod prints, stick it onto their parcel, and drop it in.

The full process (without a barcode) takes about 60 seconds. That’s quick enough that customers are much more likely to be in a shopping state of mind after they’re done with the return, and don’t have to worry about getting back to the office or catching that train on time.

Bob Griffiths
Bob Griffiths
Bob is the Head of Product Design at Doddle, delivering innovative ways to empower retailers.