Canadian consumers are abandoning their shopping carts, delaying purchases and leaving stores, public transit stops and restaurants in significant numbers according to a Maritz Research survey on customer waiting times.
Fully 86% of survey participants admitted to walking out of a store after being frustrated about having waited too long for service.
Wait times are critical
The research showed that customer expectations and opinions on wait times were strongly influenced by the retailer's attitude toward client care. The poll also identified a 'ripple effect' of unsatisfied consumers, impacting not only their future spending but also additional losses of sales through negative word-of-mouth.
The survey of over 1,300 Canadians aged 18-64 from Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, found that most customers will walk out of a store due to long wait times.
Impact on retail formats
Different types of store experience varying levels of customer walk-outs, perhaps because some types of location are naturally expected to provide faster service than others:
- Department stores: 78%;
- Public transit: 64%;
- Quick service restaurants: 58%;
- Convenience stores: 54%;
- Banking institutions: 54%;
- Medical institutions: 50%;
- Grocery stores: 40%.
Affecting loyalty too
With today's slowing economy, Maritz argues that retailers can't afford to under-estimate the influence of the in-store experience on their bottom line. There is a strong relationship between the frustration experienced during long wait times, the likelihood of the customer leaving the store, and the chance that the customer will not return to make their intended purchase (or indeed ever return again for future purchases).
"Competition for most retailers is plentiful. Customers who are leaving stores due to long wait time have other options," said Rob Daniel, president for Maritz Research in Canada. "Enhancing the customer experience is the best way for most retailers to set themselves apart and retain customers."
Even in grocery stores, where consumers are investing a significant amount of time in selecting products, 40% admitted to leaving without making a purchase. Survey participants indicated that eight minutes is a reasonable wait time in grocery stores, and that after 15 minutes they would consider leaving.
But news travels quickly, and bad news travels more quickly than ever before. Nearly 70% of the consumers surveyed said they had told others about their negative experiences, and 50% noted that they had (at some point) posted details a negative experience online.
At a time when most shopping research takes place online, and when most people are engaged in social networks to share and collect ideas, retailers are at risk of losing customers before they even set foot in a store, Maritz warned.
How to improve
Customers responded in high volumes to customer service actions that would increase the time they were willing to wait. For example, 82% said would increase their wait time if they felt that compassion or apologies were offered for the wait, and 67% said they would wait longer if they were regularly updated on their queuing status.
In some cases all that is required is a friendly employee, with 74% of those polled agreeing that they would increase their wait time if they were simply greeted with a smile. The poll's results suggest that businesses that introduce extended customer service tactics (such as offering refreshments, music, or even reading materials) may encourage customers to stay long enough to complete their purchase.