Archive for the ‘Lines’ Category

Service of Where Is Everybody? Looking for Help at Retail Today

Thursday, May 10th, 2018


Are there longer lines when you check out in large retail stores these days? Have you had a hard time finding anyone to answer a question or direct you? The Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Kapner offered reasons in “Stores Slash Staffs and Watch Lines Grow.”

Since 2008, she reported, Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers–full and part-time in stores, warehouses and at headquarters. During the same period at J.C. Penny, “workers have disappeared twice as fast as department stores,” now 112 per store down from 145.


“Retail staffing hasn’t kept pace with growth in the broader economy or population gains in the past decade. The number of salespeople at retailers grew by 1.5% over the past decade, even though the population served by each store has increased 12.5%, according to government data. At clothing and accessories stores, the number of cashiers is down more than 50% from 2007.”

In the lead, Kapner attributes the “assault” from Amazon while others blame cuts at headquarters, smaller stores, do-it-yourself checkouts, more full-time workers reducing the number of part-timers and “shelf-ready packaging that they say makes existing workers more productive.”

To redress overzealous cutbacks, Kroger grocery store is adding 11,000; Dick’s Sporting Goods plans to add 10 percent and Macy’s will bolster staff in fitting rooms, dress, women’s shoe and handbag departments “for the most impact.”

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Applebaum told Kapner:  “If brick-and-mortar retailers can’t compete on price in an online environment, the only thing that allows them to survive is to provide a positive in-store experience.”

Kapner reported that “Over the past 12 months, 86% of U.S. consumers say they have left a store due to long lines, according to a survey conducted by Adyen, a credit-card processor and payment system. That has resulted in $37.7 billion in lost sales for retailers, Adyen estimates.”

Saks flagship store NYC Photo:

According to a Saks employee on the job 24 years, sales associates in the NYC flagship “process returns, restock shelves and fill online orders which takes them away from selling.”

Is there a solution? Kapner wrote: “Retailers typically set staffing as a percent of sales, but a growing body of research suggests it should be based on foot traffic. The problem is twofold: Many retailers don’t track traffic and even if they do, they are reluctant to add labor, which is already among their biggest costs.”

A Florida chain installed cameras and noticed that even though one store was packed during the afternoon, sales were down at that time because staff was overwhelmed. Sales increased when management added two people during the busy hours.

Do you frequent major retailers? Have sales personnel been distracted or nonexistent? Are there other answers to fighting behemoth and online venues that don’t shoulder a retail rent expense? Do people have shorter patience when waiting for help or to pay in a department store than at a discounter? Are there other businesses that, like retail, use financial models from a different time that no longer apply?

Macy’s Oakbrook Center. Photo:

Service of Selective Impatience

Thursday, March 8th, 2012


Americans suffer from selective impatience. We fall for impulse purchases at checkout counters and demand to own high-priced items the second they are launched and put them on credit cards when we can’t afford them. We want to own a house this minute–we can’t wait until we’ve saved enough or generated sufficient income to cover the down payment and upkeep–and we’re the leaders of fast-food. As you read this paragraph you can envision our collective finger tapping.

lines-at-a-bridgeOn the other hand we wait in long lines to attend movies and sports events and for coffee at overpriced specialty shops, accept to be parked at bars for hours after table reservation time before being seated in tony, overbooked restaurants, stand still for 20 to 40 minutes waiting to cross a bridge at rush hour so we can commute by car, line up overnight to be one of the first to own the latest Apple tech toy and wait for hours for service and deliveries.

Those who can pay to shorten the wait. In “The Wait-Time Misery Index,” in The Wall Street Journal, Ray A. Smith reports that UPS customers pay $40 a year and a $5 per package premium for deliveries within a two-hour period. Crate & Barrel charges $89 to ensure a two or three hour delivery window.

Smith asks if you’d wait four hours for a friend who is late for dinner. “No,” he wrote, “but your cable company thinks this is a reasonable window of time to wait for service.”

I wonder who makes the rules that impact a client or customer’s time. These timekeepers act as though everyone can sashay to their desk whenever or select when they feel like teaching, nursing/treating patients or meeting deadlines.

ironing-clothesWhile waiting for a delivery in Atlanta, one woman in Smith’s story ironed 50 napkins and four tablecloths. I suppose you can line up such projects when waiting for service, repair or delivery, but should you have to?

Smith wrote “‘I see companies using the two-hour window as a significant marketing thing,’ says Bruce Champeau, Room & Board chief operating officer. The furniture retailer has had a two-hour window in effect since the mid-1990s. ‘It’s a matter of respecting the customer’s time,’ says Mr. Champeau.”

Why do we sell ourselves short? Shouldn’t this be standard and therefore nothing to market?

Smith continued “To make deliveries within a two-hour time slot, more companies are investing in software that helps determine the most efficient route. The technology can shave time off trips by taking into account speed limits, for example, and estimating how long a stop will take based on service type.” This is so elementary, it boggles. Invest in software? So many sophisticated GPS systems are free or incredibly inexpensive and have been around for years. And software isn’t going to calculate what an employee familiar with how the product works and how long it takes to fix, can do best.

Smith points out that lack of information is part of the frustration when waiting and notes how New York’s subway system lets passengers at some stations know how long they have to wait for the next local or express. I love this service, which I first saw in Paris years ago. But if you’re expected to attend an 11 o’clock meeting and you’ve been waiting for a delivery or repair since 8 am, what good is it to know that someone will be at the house by 2 pm?

Do you have a routine you follow when you have to wait for delivery or service? Do you pay a premium to shorten the wait window? Are you a selectively impatient person?


Service of Lines II

Monday, January 23rd, 2012


The Frommers travel guide team came out with a list of ten worst airline terminals. Some familiar names in this list are: Chicago Midway; Newark Terminal 2; Laguardia’s US Airways terminal and JFK Terminal 3. [Terminal…what a word for an airport anything! Whew.]

submissiveThree friends who recently returned from Florida, California and Brazil, complained about airport travel. Grievances related to shabby and/or silent treatment by airline staff and all noted that they were especially frustrated because they couldn’t demand a change in attitude. As one put it, regardless of affront, the level of being ignored or of crabby responses, “Submissive passenger behavior is vital so as not to be tossed off a flight.” 

In spite of their vivid descriptions of missing numerous connecting flights then faced with no information, unhealthy over-salted snacks, increasingly miniscule seats with no legroom that are a squeeze even for petite passengers and examples of offhanded, cavalier, inconsiderate behavior by stewards, I decided to focus on the waiting in line aspect of travel.

longgrocerylineI chose lines because I relate to this anxiety. I hate looking like a klutz. I feel slightly nervous when waiting my turn at the wonderful Trader Joe’s on 14th Street in NYC and this store does everything right. There are two lines feeding into as many as 20 cashiers and a “starter” who points to a customer and tells him/her the number of the cashier waiting to ring up their order. The cashier holds up a paddle with the number. I’m apprehensive that I won’t see the paddle among the scramble of carts, customers and cashiers all around and that I’ll cause collective eye-rolling.

Seems I’m not alone in feeling befuddled in line confusion. The Transportation Security Association retrieved over $400,000 in change in the US last year, almost $47,000 at JFK and $19,000 at LA International to name just two airports.

tallbootlaces3One of my friends, a young man who just returned from Florida, said that he wanted to advise/prepare a buddy who hadn’t traveled since the security regs started so as to help smooth the process for him. He didn’t know where to start. He said “Some airports make you take off belts, others don’t-so I’ll suggest he best wear pants that don’t need a belt.

How many layers of clothes should he wear to simplify the undressing process?” [In winter, I routinely wear three and a coat.] Airports differ so we decided the friend best leave any sweater and/or light jacket in a carryon. Forget boots with lots of laces or even sneakers with laces: Slip-ons slip off  fastest. We left in the air the answer to the next question: What’s the best place to store your ticket and passport/driver’s license after you’ve shown it so you don’t leave it behind along with your change, keys, smartphone and other stuff slated for the tray. 

And I thought I felt apprehensive about promptly finding “my” cashier at Trader Joe! What advice do you have for travelers so as to alleviate travel stress in lines, conversations with airline staff and otherwise?


Service of Lines

Monday, February 21st, 2011


We attended a great classical music concert upstate in a stunning concert hall on a college grounds in Dutchess County. We subscribe and go quite often year ’round.

Something must have been in the air last Saturday night as what happened was a first and it occurred three times. While I stood in line at the ladies’ room my husband lined up to get something to drink at the snack counter and we shared a similar experience in our respective lines. A foursome pushed in front of Homer and placed their orders. He said it was as though he wasn’t there. My line was so long that it formed an L shape down two halls. At the bend a woman marched right in front of the person ahead of me and became deaf when we told her where the line ended.

Later, as we drove out of the parking area, a car cut me off in what is usually a smooth departure directed by students strategically placed at crossroads. You can’t miss them: They carry oversized flashlights.

subwaycrowdWe’re used to this behavior in big cities around the world. In New York, for example, you’re poised to fight for a cab, a space in a crowded subway car, your place at grocery store checkouts or some attention in retail establishments.

busstopMind you, we can do lines in the city. I notice neat ones on sidewalks at bus stops and in front of coffee carts as well as polling places. I often see double rows of young children kept in check by vigilant teachers and parents ushering the little ones across busy streets.

At the concert, we were misled by civilized music and the elegant hall in a bucolic setting. The arrogance of cutting in seemed out of place.

Are there line-breakers these days all over the country, not just in big cities? Why do you think this is happening? Are there some cultures that respect lines more than others? When you see a line, do you honor it or break in? Are some lines meant to be ignored?


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