or wait 15 seconds

Every Second Counts When Theyre Thirsty Or Hungry

Paul Schlossberg
That headline just might be an understatement! It's far more likely to be every second counts at the locations we serve.

Do you know how long it takes for shoppers to make a purchase at your sites? In other businesses, there is a powerful focus on time. This thinking and research has delivered both operational and shopper benefits.

First we have an example of how minutes count. If you've ever flown on Southwest Airlines, you've probably benefited from their ability to quickly turn-around an arriving flight. A CNBC report, 10 Minutes That Changed Southwest Airlines' Future, noted that management "calculated three airplanes could do the work of four if the planes were in and out of the gate in 10 minutes." The lesson here, for us, is that we should be re-examining all of our work processes to find faster solutions.

Did the 10-minute turnaround work for Southwest Airlines? Of course it did. They delivered a real benefit for their flyers. That resulted in a positive impact on customer loyalty due to the quick in-and-out turnaround. It saves time for the company and its customers. How often have you waited (far more than 10 minutes) for some other airline to turnaround an arriving flight so you can board and depart? For me, as a one-time extremely frequent flyer, it's really frustrating.

Next is an example of how seconds matter. Have you ever noticed how quickly people walk through and shop in the supermarket aisles? There was a study showing that people make very fast decisions in supermarkets1.

● 42% decide in 5 seconds or less
● 33% decide in 6-15 seconds
● 25% decide in 15 seconds or more

On your next supermarket shopping trip, pay closer attention to how hard the stores and brands work to get you to notice "their" products. Think about all of the competing signs, end-cap displays and so much more. If you're paying attention, you might walk out of the supermarket with some ideas you can use.

Do you know the difference between slow-time shopping versus zero-time shopping? Examples of slow-time shopping involve more deliberate thinking with fact-based or emotional factors. That might include shopping for clothing or a computer or furniture.  

We operate in the realm of zero-time shopping. For most of our shoppers, it involves known categories and products. There is usually little to no thinking when we shop this way. We all have our favorite cold beverages, candy, salty snacks, cookies, etc. When we are thirsty or hungry, we tend to make a purchase from a very short list we keep in heads.

If you don't believe that seconds count, here's something you should do. Get a stopwatch (you probably have a timer on your smartphone). Get a pad and some paper. We actually did this, about 10 years ago, for a client project. The resulting data and conclusions were surprising to say the least.

Visit a few of your busiest sites. Take a seat where you'll be able to observe people shopping, selecting and paying. Time an individual from when he/she enters until the shopping process is completed. At that point the person you're observing will either sit down or depart the breakroom. This is what you'll be tracking:

1. Time of day: It will help you know whether it is break time or a meal – breakfast or lunch.  
2. Elapsed time – in minutes and seconds.
3. Number of items purchased and categories (cold drink, candy, snack, etc.)
4. Payment mode – by cash/card/phone.
5. Comments: What else did you see about the transaction? Did the shopper have any problems? Were there out-of-stocks? Which category was easiest to shop? Which category was most difficult for that person?

Below is a chart you can use when you're observing shoppers. Feel free to create your own tracking format if you wish.

Do you want to sell more stuff? Get out of your office and start timing the people who shop at our stores.


1 Price Knowledge and Search of Supermarket Shoppers; Journal of Marketing; P. Dickson and A. Sawyer.

» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at or (972) 877-2972 or

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