Talk to Sales


Retail Friction Points: What They Are, and Why You Should Never Say “Friction Points”

Some people should not be allowed to coin phrases.  Two such people are Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, who co-wrote the …

By Dave Eagle

06-comiccon line
Photo by Doug Kline

Some people should not be allowed to coin phrases.  Two such people are Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, who co-wrote the book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark.  Apparently, the Eisenberg brothers had never heard of the term “bottleneck” when they wrote their book, because they went ahead and came up with something they called “friction points.”  These are the stops along the purchasing process where the the consumer experience can grind to a frustrating halt: a long line at the register, or a slow connection for card authorization, or even being stuck behind director Wes Anderson, who does everything in slow motion with a haunting tune playing behind him.  Though friction points are real, the term has been grossly thrown around by the blogging-heads of the business world.  And, I’m not using the term “grossly” to mean “a huge amount.”  No, I mean “grossly” as in “Eww! GROSS.”  I don’t want to hear about your customers’ friction points, let alone how you went ahead and relieved them.  Get a room.  I’ll stick with the word “bottleneck,” and the wholesome imagery of bar fights and broken glass that it evokes.

And, sure, I know you’re probably reading this, asking, What’s your point? before adding You’re weird, Dave.  But I’m only just resorting to this aimless, meandering wordsmithing to create a metatextual experience not unlike the delay and frustration your customers go through when they hit a retail bottleneck.  I’m the wrench in the monkey works—to both coin a phrase and prove my earlier point that some people should not be allowed to coin a phrase—just like one cashier on duty will almost certainly tick someone off at some point.

But don’t take my word for it, check out this perfectly good example that former CEO Michael Hyatt completely fabricated for his blog:

There was only one clerk working the counter. I was the fifth person in line…There was not another clerk in sight. I looked at my watch and then looked back at the counter. The clerk seemed to be taking forever. I thought…I really don’t have time to wait here for 15 minutes. So, I put the book down and left the store.

I then drove down the street to another chain bookstore…Unfortunately, the situation was almost a complete repeat of the first scenario—one clerk with a line of people waiting to check out. Again, I groaned, put the books down, and walked out of the store.

Photo by martinak15
Photo by martinak15

There are a few things to comment on here, not the least of which is why Michael Hyatt didn’t have 15 minutes to wait in line, but had at least that much time to walk out to his car, drive to another bookstore, park, enter, find the same book, get in line, and leave empty handed again. He ended up buying his books on Amazon, concluding that 1-Click is easier than 1-Cashier (my clever wordplay, not his), and that the brick-and-mortars had better follow suit.  Hire more cashiers.  Acknowledging that “some may argue” against more cashiers due to the cost, Hyatt expertly responds to the argument he had just come up with: “When customers like me abandon their purchases in frustration, can they really afford not to capture the sale?”  I’d argue that it’s precisely because of impatient customers like him that store fronts can’t afford to hire more staff.  That said, when Hyatt says that retail stores need to follow suit, he has a point.

Find out more about Kounta’s Retail Point of Sale Software

You don’t have to hire another cashier.  Installing a mobile POS lets you turn all your employees into checkout lanes.  I mean, not literally (but sources tell me it’s in early dev).  You’ve got people stocking shelves on the floor or helping customers find things.  Why not give them a device with a card swiper and let them help out?  Apple’s been doing this for years at their stores, and the proliferation of cloud-based mobile apps for Point of Sale puts this in the hands of even the smallest shop owner.  (Fun fact: the world record for the smallest shop owner is held by Heinrich Kleinermann, the 101 cm owner of Dusseldorf’s Das Pfannkuchenhaus [The Pancake House] back in 1912.  He ran the place until 1935, when the state took it over and renamed it Der LuftWaffle).  But I digress.  The point is, everyone’s a cashier with a mobile POS, no extra counter space needed.

Another bottleneck to your sales could be your customers themselves.  There is something known in marketing circles as The Law of Customer Patience.  Also, sometimes I refer to my own head as “marketing circles.”  The Law of Customer Patience states that as the distance between a consumer and his living room couch increases, his patience decreases. To understand this law, think of Michael Hyatt.  He was stuck in a fictitious line of his own creation, and wouldn’t even pretend to wait for 15 minutes.  He left and took his imagination elsewhere.  Instead of standing for length of time at a store to buy his books, he preferred to wait two full business days to get the same merchandise delivered to the couch of his choosing.  For small businesses, it’s traditionally been very costly to operate an online presence in parallel with an IRL store.  Keeping quantities and sales in sync was tedious at best, a soul-crushing hellscape of endless torment at worst.  Or so I’ve heard.

But—and again!—it’s the cloud to the rescue, as your sophisticated POS probably can (and ought to) integrate seamlessly with a web store.  Online orders with in-store pickup are an excellent way to beat the queue.  For cafes and such, another excellent way is Beat The Q.  And for any type of business, doing sales over the internet is a great way to build a customer database.

Which brings me to another bottleneck that can be easily avoided: getting customer contact information.  Online sales will require a few types of contact information in order to be processed, but at the checkout counter it’s a different story.  No one really likes standing around giving private contact information to a complete stranger, all within earshot of other strangers.  And everyone on line will get annoyed at having to wait while the Terms and Conditions of your Loyalty Rewards program are spelled out while one person fills out a form with all their identifying numbers and letters.  And here, there’s really only one crucial piece of information you need: an email address.  No one wants a store to call them about upcoming sales.  And anything by post is usually ignored.  An email address, on the other hand, can receive personalized newsletters and offers.  You can find people on social media and invite them to follow or “like” your account.  Or you can tie your POS in with a super cool loyalty app for targeted and effective incentives.

Incidentally, when it comes to the Point of Sale, you may have noticed that your customers’ biggest frustrations often overlap with yours or your staff’s.  Got a line full of frustrated customers and only one cashier?  I’ll bet the cashier isn’t too happy, either.  Are you confused about how your web sales are impacting your inventory?  Chances are your customer isn’t sure she’ll get that item she ordered online.  Customers have “form fatigue” from your extensive data collection?  You’re probably not happy at how slow it makes your store seem.  So, if we’re talking about improving the retail experience, that includes yours, as well.  The easier you make your job, the easier it is for your customers to buy stuff.  And while it would be a lie to say there’s no end to the ways a mobile POS can improve your operations, it would be an even bigger lie to say there’s no end to this article.