IKEA stores, by design, are a destination shopping experience. The Swedish-based retail stores draw in customers with modern home furnishings at an affordable price, while their massive store spaces and winding floor plans often keep shoppers inside for an hour or more.
Spending that much time picking out a book case is one thing. Waiting another 20 minutes to pay for it is another. And after a rash of complaints from customers who described just that kind of repeated delay, IKEA stores in the United States are yanking the self-service checkout systems that were causing the back-ups.
While most IKEA stores house a sprawl of checkout lanes, both self and cashier operated, typically the cashier lanes were opened only on peak shopping days. That meant that customers were funneled into a smaller group of self-checkout lanes that became clogged with shoppers trying to operate the system and manage their purchases.
IKEA did not return calls to be interviewed for this story, but company spokesperson Joseph Roth told The Tampa Tribune that the self-checkout system "wasn't as efficient as we originally hoped."
Francie Mendelsohn, president of Summit Research Associates, an international consulting firm devoted to kiosks, personally experienced the frustration with IKEA’s self-checkout and quipped, "What took them so long?"
Mendelsohn described a typical shopping experience when the only option for checkout was the self-service kiosks. Roughly half of the shoppers hopped from lane to lane in attempt to shorten their wait times. Once able to use the self-checkout, users found the directions to be unclear and the scanner uncooperative.
"There was no explanation on how to use them," said Mendelsohn, who has tested kiosks worldwide. "I was aiming the scan gun at the bar codes and it just wasn’t working."
Whether IKEA’s self-checkout kiosks were difficult to use as a result of user-error, company-error or manufacturer design-error was a topic of consideration for Mendelsohn, who said she felt the kiosks lacked proper instructions for such a touchy system.
Mendelsohn explained that while checking out at IKEA, "an employee came by and said I needed to hold the scanner about six inches from the barcode. I asked her, 'How was I supposed to know that? There is nothing on the screen to indicate that this is how the thing works.' She shot me an angry look and walked away."
Mendelsohn said she went back to her office and tweeted, "Beware if you use these kiosks, they are very difficult to use."
Soon, she received a response to the tweet from NCR, the manufacturer of the self-checkout units. The individual said the units were designed to include a second screen, which would show demos to shoppers on how to operate the scanners, but that for whatever reason, IKEA decided not to include them in the deployments.
NCR declined to discuss the IKEA kiosks with KioskMarketplace, but pointed to a new study it had commissioned from an outside research firm. Its results show that shoppers continue to like self-checkout and see it as a customer service differentiator, with 70 percent of self-checkout shoppers wanting to see more of it in mass merchants.
"When self-checkout is done well, customers love it," said Sheridan Orr of consulting firm Interrobang Agency. "However, when it is clunky and confusing, the customer is left to think, 'I have to work this hard to give you my money?'"
Customers should feel that they are getting value from self-service—saving time, money or convenience, Orr said. This convenience may mean that the customer scans the items while a willing associate helps them get their new desk to the car. If retailers only look at self-checkout as a way to remove headcount, they are doomed to fail, she said.
"Part of the IKEA brand is quirkiness," said Orr, "but they have to examine the impact that has on their customers."
Photo provided by TAJIKBOY.
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