With festive gifts now hitting the shops and Black Friday less than 90 days away, the pressure is on for retailers across the UK to get their house in order ahead of the lucrative Christmas period.

While the relentless jingling of festive songs and unseemly behaviour from bargain-hungry shoppers in snap sales seems somewhat inevitable, consumers' willingness to spend more in store or wait in line to pay is by no means guaranteed, particularly as events such as Cyber Monday continue to grow in popularity.

In fact, data from an Intel/Box Technologies consumer survey highlights that, when faced with the inconvenient prospect of long queues and other harassed shoppers, many customers will vote with their feet and walk away. This makes it essential that retailers encourage them to stay in store by using technology as a tool to improve customer experience and engagement – and reduce dreaded point-of-sale queues.

Home comfort: why shoppers are staying away from the high street

While retail sales rose overall last year on the back of cheaper food and fuel prices, department stores suffered as Black Friday brought Christmas shopping forward to November, with sales falling by 4.5% in December. Online retail sales were also up during Christmas 2014, with £8 billion sales made through smartphones and tablets – an increase of 55% on the same period in 2013.

With no waiting in line and a growing choice of delivery options, it's perhaps not surprising that consumers are turning to the web rather than the high street and shopping in the comfort of their warm homes. With plenty of bargains to be had from online giants such as Amazon, as well as their favourite high street brands' online retail sites, many early shoppers are also likely to steer well clear of the scrums that develop on the shop floor during Black Friday sales.

Which begs the question – what will it take to put the joy back into the traditional festive shopping season? As Black Friday promotions make Christmas shopping come early and consumers' become increasingly reluctant to brave the hustle and bustle of the high street, are Britain's stores really doomed to see their December sales turn out to be a cold and damp disappointment?  

Not prepared to wait: engaging customers with interactive technology

While there are few quick fixes in retail, to engage customers and meet or even exceed their needs and expectations, more and more retail brands are re-imagining the in-store experience with technology. In particular, interactive displays, digital signage, kiosks and mobile point of sale (MPoS) solutions can all help to make shopping in-store more enjoyable for customers, encouraging them to stay longer and spend more.

Improving customer engagement is especially important when it comes to reducing waiting times, with the Intel/Box Technologies survey showing consumers' single biggest annoyance when shopping in store is being forced to wait in line. Even in the slickest stores with dazzling virtual displays and digital signage, a happy half hour of browsing can easily be soured by a long stand in what will inevitably turn out to be the slowest queue to pay.

Despite being renowned as a national past-time, the study found that many customers standing in line will quietly be getting more and more wound up. In fact, more than 27% of consumers admitted to being annoyed by fellow shoppers when queueing, especially those who barge in or engage in public displays of affection.

Crucially, the research also showed time spent waiting translated to lost sales: 38% of people say they have abandoned a purchase as a result of long queues, with 24% waiting for less than five minutes before walking away. A further 86% of consumers said they will avoid a store if they see long queues, while 70% are far less likely to return after being kept waiting.

Their message to retailers is pretty clear. No matter how much they might love the brand or its products, today's shoppers are not prepared to wait in line when they could be shopping online or elsewhere.

Speedier service, happier festive shoppers

So with busy periods not always easy to predict, what can retailers do to encourage customers to buy more goods, more often?

Even with all hands on deck at the point of sale, with only a limited number of till points, many retailers are powerless to speed things up when queues start to form – which is where MPoS solutions can really come into their own.

Used as part of a customer-centric retail strategy, first and foremost, equipping Santa's helpers with hand-held devices gives them more opportunity to interact with customers on the shop floor. This might include, for example, helping stressed-out shoppers to find to find the right size or style or ordering it for them before they add to the queue or walk away. With the full functionality of a till, store staff are also empowered to speed up the sales process by proactively moving to where the customer wants to shop and pay.

As the competition for the festive pound hots up, for store-based retailers, finding the right mix of new technology with good old-fashioned customer service might well be the key to shorter queues and happier Christmas shoppers.

Rather than scrooging on gifts, waiting for the sales or hibernating indoors, this more enjoyable atmosphere could be the secret to encouraging even the most committed online shoppers and bargain hunters to come back to the high street and spend more time and money with the brand.

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