As front-end functions increase in number and complexity, achieving point-of-sale efficiency becomes an increasingly difficult challenge for retailers. The variety of payment methods available to customers, for example, can significantly extend the time needed for tendering functions.
Several companies are finding ways to maintain their cashiers' efficiency through closer integration of POS systems with other applications, such as those providing customers with electronic marketing discounts and labor-scheduling software.
In addition, more retailers are using cashier-monitoring software designed both to improve loss-prevention efforts and to identify under-performing cashiers. Retailers warn, however, that such systems work best when store managers and other executives make a commitment to work with, and retrain where necessary, the employees who exhibit problems.
A&P, Montvale, N.J., has made a concerted effort to ensure that "nothing we're doing with [POS] software affects customer throughput," said Francis Clark, vice president of in-store systems at A&P. The retailer recently reviewed its POS technology options and decided to stay with its existing hardware and software, except for replacing dot matrix printers with thermal printers.
Nevertheless, "we've observed no degradation in throughput levels," said Clark. "When we're designing things in the checkout process, we're very aware of things that impede throughput. Electronic marketing, for example, can complicate the process at the POS. We try to eliminate times the cashier has to interface with either the customer or the POS equipment."
A&P has incorporated all electronic-marketing functions, including offers to members of customer-loyalty programs, into its POS systems. Discounts are applied to appropriate products automatically, said Clark.
In addition, the retailer "looks closely at electronic benefits transfer and payment issues," he added. "We have our own financial switch, which gives us extremely low processing times. We can do check approvals in three to five seconds, for example, vs. seven to nine seconds for getting approvals from an outside database."
Another key issue in front-end efficiency is the performance of the cashiers themselves. Even relatively basic POS reporting systems can identify problem areas, and the more detailed a POS report is, the more specific the remediation effort can be.
"Many POS systems break down reports to tendering, change, checking and idle time," said Mike Metz, director of POS systems at Tops Markets, Buffalo, N.Y., a division of Ahold USA, Atlanta. "A cashier might be fast on items scanned per minute, but not on the tendering process."
Metz relies on exception reports drawn from the POS systems in the 130-plus supermarkets under the Tops and Finast banners, and processed by the mainframe computer at the retailer's headquarters. "We get reports on items scanned per minute, scan percentages, departmental scan percentages and not-on-file percentages," he explained. "If the average not-on-file percentage for a store is 0.5% and one cashier has a 3% average, we would look at that.
"From a productivity standpoint, we do an 80-20 report," he added. "We take the 20% lowest-performing people and feed that information out to the stores. The store managers can work with those specific people on retraining about, for example, misrings."
Food Giant, Bessemer, Ala., also uses exception reporting from its POS data. "We can pull up each item scanned, and watch each keystroke," said James Reach, information systems director at Food Giant.
"We're trying to get as large a percentage as possible of items scanned" vs. having the cashier enter the price or the Universal Product Code number into the keyboard, said Reach. The retailer's goals are to have 94% to 95% of all items either scanned or entered into the system using a price look-up code.
Monitoring of high-ticket items such as meat products can pinpoint both "sliding" by cashiers as well as other potential problem areas. If a cashier has a meat percentage that differs significantly from the store's average, "it can be an indicator of the need for more training," said Reach.
Cashier performance can be improved simply by letting employees know there are standards to be reached. "When I worked as a store manager, if there was a cashier out of the average I would ask them if there was something they didn't understand. This let them know I was watching, and their percentages would improve," said Reach. He also encourages store managers to post key performance indicators as a motivational tool. "Nobody likes to be on the bottom, and the top person is also motivated to stay there," he said.
Several retailers use software specifically designed for cashier monitoring. "Such software is very good at focusing on inefficiencies in the process," said A&P's Clark. Harding's Friendly Markets, Plainwell, Mich., also uses cashier-monitoring software in five of its 33 stores. "In stores where managers use it effectively, it shows them where weaknesses are and areas for improvement during the review process," said Curt DeVries, information systems director at Harding's.
Other methods of improving efficiency include linking POS data with labor-scheduling software, as A&P does. "It allows us to be more consistent in front-end scheduling needs," said Clark.
Tops is "headed in a more integrated direction," said Metz, noting that the retailer's parent company has established synergy groups that allow divisions to learn about technology and systems at other Ahold divisions.
Linking labor-scheduling software with POS systems would allow the retailer to more effectively "schedule cashiers when customers shop the store," said Metz.
In addition, analyzing overall productivity and average order size might encourage a store to "operate more express lanes between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.," especially if a store has a strong home-meal replacement business, he noted.
Many types of front-end technology are being designed with features that will improve efficiency, sources told SN. "The industry is heading toward graphic user interface technology that will be specific to each cashier," believes Food Giant's Reach.
"Most young people have grown up with touchscreen technology, so it's nothing new to them," he added. "This will make training and operations easier. What makes people afraid of technology at the start is fear of the unknown, so if they see something familiar it helps."