Convenience stores can satisfy customers, instill a sense of order and increase sales by adding one simple system to their store: a smartly stocked queue.
That was one of the messages that The Hershey Company shared in early October at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Las Vegas. Hershey was recently recognized by Convenience Store News as the 2018 Category Captain for Queuing in C-Store, and company analysts, consultants and strategists were on the show floor sharing insights about the impact a queue can make—like the fact that it can increase sales of items stocked by 20 to 25 percent. To illustrate their research, the Hershey team stood by a winding queue, loaded with snacking options such as Oatmega bars, Skinny Pop, Ice Breakers, Reese’s and other beloved snack foods, offering tours and advice to interested retailers and show-goers.
“A queue not only leads to a higher conversion within your unplanned shopping items, but it’s also really good engagement and leaves a good experience with the shopper as well,” said Alexis Garber, category strategist with Hershey’s Mobile Customer Insights Center (MCIC), which is traveling around the country to meet with convenience store professionals to share insights. Here’s why convenience stores should build an effective queue—and how to do it at your store.
It creates social justice and fairness. Some convenience store checkouts feel like a free-for-all. It’s unclear where the line is, who got there first and whether or not fellow customers are going to play by the first-come-first served rules. That can cause stress and anxiety in shoppers. By establishing a queue, whether it’s a winding pathway lined with shelves or even a single shelf filled with top-selling items, a convenience store establishes a sense of order that shoppers appreciate. Hershey’s research found that 81 percent of customers report they like the queue because it’s organized, fast and helps with navigation. “A lot of time you check out at a store and you walk up to the counter, you don’t know who’s next. Think about that anxiety, that frustration,” said Alan Tobin, director, c-store category management. “A queue line takes that frustration and anxiety and brings social justice to the check-out process.”
It increases sales. Queuing is something that’s long had success in larger retailers like Marshalls and HomeGoods, but it’s new to the convenience store industry. As online shopping increases, retailers of all sizes are searching for ways to appeal to shoppers in their stores. Hershey experts report that a queue helps increase something called “conversion,” meaning it ups the odds that a person entering the store will make a purchase that they hadn’t expected to make. “A queue line delivers a lot higher chance of an unplanned purchase because they are just standing and waiting in line,” says Tobin. Lexy Damron, who is a category analyst with Hershey, says she’s seeing great success among early adopters. “I’ve got a couple of retailers in the northeast that are picking this up and are just thrilled with the results it’s giving them, with 20 to 25 percent sales lift on the items that are on their queue. It’s really driving category growth for all the categories that are on it,” she says.
It can be effective in any area that shoppers might line up. While an orderly checkout is important, queue lines are also a great fit elsewhere in the store. “Anywhere a shopper is waiting is wasted time if there’s not something that they can pick up and shop,” says Damron. “That’s the problem we’re trying to solve here.” She says that queues also offer great product pairing options. For example, a quick-serve restaurant could have a queue with snack items that help complete a meal, such as Skinny Pop popcorn, sweet-and-salty mixes and beverage options. At the coffee station, items such as Kit Kat and Ice Breakers tend to act as complements, and would be good items to stock in a queue.
It makes a convenience store truly convenient. Convenience store trips are quick, averaging around two minutes and 42 seconds, with 28 seconds spent in the check-out line. By offering top-selling items in a queue, it saves the customer a trip down the aisle, putting an array of choices at their fingertips. “By making a queue easy to shop, it helps a shopper find what they need faster and gets them where they’re going. That can help a lot in their journey, especially during that stressful checkout period,” says Damron.
It’s a place where you can install signs and seasonal items. The sample queue at Hershey was topped with signs bearing stomach-rumbling photos of chocolate-covered pretzels, popcorn, Kit Kat, Reese’s and more. “It can trigger in the customer’s mind, ‘Hey maybe I should buy that,’” says David Brightwell, category consultant with Hershey. And sitting on top of the queue shelves were large, acrylic bowls holding Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins. After Halloween, the bowls can easily be filled with other seasonal items or sale items. In that way, the queue offers opportunities to showcase innovative or timely items without losing precious shelf space.
Establish a single-file line using shelves as guidance. “Really the first step in establishing a queue is understanding what kind of space you have to work with,” says Alexis Garber, category strategist, MCIC. Smaller stores may want to use a single, four-foot long shelf, while larger stores can offer more extensive shelving to guide the lines.
Use intuitive guidance and signage. “You want a distinct start and a distinct exit that is drawn out for shoppers,” says Garber. That means you should have signs that say “please enter here” and “please exit here” to diminish any confusion about the flow of the line.
Offer clear sight-lines and optimal size. Tobin says that the ideal height of the shelving is 42 to 48 inches tall. “You don’t want the shopper to feel like they’re trapped and enclosed. you want clear sight-lines, and you want to be in a comfortable space between the shelving.” In addition, Tobin points out that the width of the queue should be at least 36 inches to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, allowing enough room for wheelchairs.
Stock it with relevant checkout items. Garber says that the best queue items are products with very high household penetration and high purchase frequency. “So the categories that play into that in the checkout are going to be your confection and your snack items,” she says. It can also include items such as energy and granola bars, lip remedies, lighters, energy shots and other popular products.
Items should flow from lower impulse to higher impulse. “How you merchandise in the queue is really critical,” says Tobin. Hershey recommends starting the queue with items that might take more time to peruse, like energy bars or gift cards, so that shoppers have time to read and consider. Close to register, place your top-selling candy bars, like Reese’s (in both king and standard size so shoppers have options), as well as mints and gum. These are items that shoppers can grab without deliberation or fear of holding up the line. “It’s a very short decision,” says Tobin. “It doesn’t take that long.”
Setting up a queue isn’t just good for sales, it’s good for business. It helps customers find what they want and feel good about the experience. And that can lead to them becoming repeat customers.
 Source: Hershey Small Format Queueing Research
 Source: Hershey Mobile Customer Insights Center Data: Small Format Queuing Test
 Source: Hershey Videomining