Why is it so hard to find the cash register?

by on March 10, 2016 at 1:48 am in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is increasingly the case at some upper end stores and boutiques.  Ray A. Smith has a very good WSJ piece on this phenomenon, here is one bit:

More high-end boutiques and department stores are moving the machine out of sight or eliminating it entirely.

Instead, sales associates walk the floors with mobile checkout devices or handle transactions in discreet nooks. Stores aim to make the experience of paying more elegant, akin to private shopping, and to eliminate a pain point that keeps some shoppers from completing a purchase—having to wait in a visible line. Hiding the cash register also forces shoppers to interact with the salespeople and might even encourage them to buy more.


1. Waiting in line is described as “unenlightened.”

2. I enjoyed this remark: “We’re downplaying that last transactional part of the experience…”  And this: “”Researchers have identified a concept known as “the pain of paying,” said Ziv Carmon, a professor of marketing at Insead, a business school with campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “Doing away with the queue and even with the register makes the upcoming pain of paying less salient,” he said.”

3. When customers are not waiting in line but rather having their purchases processed “privately,” salespeople are encouraged to socialize with them and get to know them better.  And: “Stores say sales associates are expected to sense when a shopper is ready to pay.”


1 Donald Pretari March 10, 2016 at 2:04 am

I had thought you would want to be seen spending money at high-end stores.

2 dan1111 March 10, 2016 at 6:55 am

You want people to see you shopping there, but not the part where your credit card is declined.

3 jim jones March 10, 2016 at 2:59 am

This just leads to another problem, “Why is it so hard to find the sales associates?”

4 Daniel Weber March 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Who have a line. And then want to talk with you about your purchase, while you are trying to get your work done.

5 JWatts March 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Yes, those sentences make no sense. If there was going to be a line at the cash register and the store isn’t increasing the sales staff, there will be an even longer wait with a sales person trying to up sale you in a discreet nook.

6 Dan March 13, 2016 at 12:05 am

Not exactly. A store will usually have more than sales associates than cash registers. By creating a mobile solution that allows every sales associate to ring up purchases they will eliminate the bottleneck of a standard cash register.

7 Urso March 15, 2016 at 10:57 am

It’s also better for the stores to have people wandering around, looking for an “associate”, as opposed to standing in a static line away from the racks of clothes. Marketing is eating the world.

8 Ray Lopez March 10, 2016 at 3:01 am

The pain of paying is very real in the Philippines, where the lines are long, very very very long. Sometimes a 20 minute wait (which seems like an hour) to checkout. Too many people. I tried to hire a street urchin to wait in line for me (with instructions, if I’m not back in time, to let the person behind him move on, and thus not block the line) but the security guard at the local Jollibee fast food place forbade it. The Filipinos don’t like innovation, and they don’t believe in free markets. Actually even in the USA, with the lack of “premium checkouts” where you can pay to cut in line, that’s true.

Bonus trivia: I’ve read the Czechoslovakia cutting in line is a big deal, and the police will arrest you.

9 MC March 10, 2016 at 3:48 am

Czechoslovakia does not exist anymore. Is it a big deal for both Czechs and Slovaks or one more than the other?

10 Marian Kechlibar March 10, 2016 at 4:35 am

Czech here. It is an absolute hoax. Cutting in line is frowned upon, but the Penal Code is not involved.

11 Ray Lopez March 10, 2016 at 9:01 am

Oh well, I stand corrected. Maybe it was during the USSR era.

12 Justin March 10, 2016 at 9:56 am

When I was in my Henry Hazlit phase I used to wish restaurants would raise their prices 20% on Friday and Saturday so you could get a table quickly without a reservation. But human nature is, to some degree, a brute fact of being human. We have deeply ingrained fairness and equality norms. That has some negative tradeoffs, but the overall benefits are overwhelmingly positive. A society of Homo economicus could not form large scale cooperative ventures because of agency costs. Prosocial traits fill that gap.

13 Kevin Gaughan March 10, 2016 at 4:20 am

But..but… but….

I find the register the most interesting part of the store. They have interesting machines and strange doohickeys for taking labels off and they always have displays of weird stuff that you never realised you needed but suddenly seem essential now that you are about to purchase a pair of shoes or shirt or whatever PLUS you get to spy on the other customers and see what they are buying.

A shop without a register seems like very boring place to me.

14 Steve March 10, 2016 at 5:39 am

Yes. I look forward to the cash register and taking them away may reduce my buying.

15 floyd March 10, 2016 at 7:56 am

I guess you’ve never been to an Apple store.

16 Mark March 10, 2016 at 5:07 am

Haven’t most better restaurants been doing this for decades?

17 xmal March 31, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Good observation and Oh no—are we going to be tipping the sales clerks next?

18 Peter Akuleyev March 10, 2016 at 5:13 am

How long will it be before we get “counterfeit” sales associates who will discreetly perform your transaction on their own device, and then disappear before you trip the security alarm trying to leave the store with the clothes you “paid for”?

19 Yancey Ward March 10, 2016 at 9:46 am

Exactly the comment I was going to make.

20 Jeff R. March 10, 2016 at 9:59 am

Is that really going to work, though? As soon as the customer is alerted to the fraud, 30 seconds after you’ve “swiped” his/her credit, they’ll call and cancel it, won’t they? I would think if you actually attempted to carry out a scheme like that, you’d have about two minutes to make a purchase with your stolen credit card information, which will probably be denied, anyway.

21 Steve March 10, 2016 at 5:37 am

Would “pain of paying” fall under the concept of “psychic costs?”

22 rayward March 10, 2016 at 6:23 am

Brooks Brothers has gone the other way, with a large pay station located near the middle of the store. Most of my BB purchases are made on-line, and I am always fascinated by the elegant wrapping (with ribbons, no less) when the package arrives at my house. What’s the point of the wrapping? I suspect that the trend to hide the cash register has much to do with the increasing competition from on-line shopping. What the latter offers is an illusion that the customer isn’t really shopping, isn’t really spending money; indeed, for the returning customer, she doesn’t even have to enter any payment information, the web site doing it automatically. Just press the button. And it’s all done in the privacy of one’s home. I have a friend who purchases lots of items on-line. And then returns almost all of them! Which is a hassle. I don’t know if it’s because, like an addict, she can’t help herself or because she derives a sense of well-being by purchasing expensive items – even though she intends to return them. If she were to do the same thing in a retail store, she’d probably be banned for life.

23 Alvin March 10, 2016 at 10:08 am

I’ve wondered about people, especially women, returning their items often. My guess is they shop during the week for the Friday and Saturday night outs at clubs/restaurants/parties and then return the expensive new shoes and clothes on Sunday. It is a form of fraud or deceit if you ask me, and these are mainly cheap, self-obsessed people who do stuff like this.

24 jb March 10, 2016 at 11:41 am

You’re wrong. It’s a coordination issue.

It’s “I like this, will it go with my other outfits? I can’t remember/decide exactly how I’ll wear this, so I’ll go home, review it against my existing wardrobe, and return it if I decide I wouldn’t wear it.”

Once you accept that line of reasoning, there’s no reason to not buy everything you might like even a little, then return most of it.

25 TMC March 10, 2016 at 12:16 pm

My wife does this (not wear and return). Gives her an excuse to back to the store again.

26 Cliff March 10, 2016 at 1:28 pm

I bought two suits from Men’s Wearhouse before a business trip, wore them for the trip, then returned them when I got back. In the meantime I had custom suits made while I was in Hong Kong. It’s their return policy, they can make it whatever they want.

27 Urso March 15, 2016 at 11:02 am

I have heard of musicians flying into town for a gig, “buying” equipment at Guitar Center (30 day return policy), and returning it after the gig. You can only get away with this maybe twice; supposedly Guitar Center tracks your return habits and has a “no returns allowed” list.

28 Cyrus March 10, 2016 at 11:30 am

Permissive return policies are necessary to make many categories of online apparel sales work in the absence of a fitting room.

29 a Fred March 10, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Some online clothes sellers use virtual fitting rooms. This seems like a very workable approach.
I have no experience with these or with online clothes shopping in general; can anyone here comment on their usefulness?

30 William Woody March 10, 2016 at 7:39 am

Waiting for the class action lawsuit against the store with roaming sales associates replacing fixed cash registers for racial or gender bias, as sales associates in those stores approach certain customers faster than others.

31 Mitch Berkson March 10, 2016 at 8:17 am

So now that on-line stores have finally realized that they need to offer a “Guest” checkout for the 99% of customers who don’t want to be a part of their ecosystems, physical stores are going in the other direction? Maybe that’s what the people who shop in real stores are looking for…?

32 Donald Pretari March 10, 2016 at 8:24 am

“Stores say sales associates are expected to sense when a shopper is ready to pay”

Personally, I use an erection to signal I’m ready to pay. I don’t want a salesperson hovering over me like a drone in anticipation. Better to leave no doubt.

33 Noumenon72 March 10, 2016 at 11:06 am

Yes, brothels were visionary in their early elimination of the cage register.

34 brone March 10, 2016 at 8:59 am

Very interesting. The lack of cash registers is a major reason I avoid the Apple Store, and I don’t like the idea of it spreading further. Who wants to have to find somebody and then maybe have to talk to them as they try to build a relationship? Not me, that’s for sure! Feels like visiting a car dealership.

35 B. Reynolds March 10, 2016 at 9:17 am

No lines at Amazon.com. But then, I don’t shop high end.

36 Yancey Ward March 10, 2016 at 9:48 am

When Helicopter Money starts, you will be able to just walk out of the store with the merchandise.

37 Jeff March 10, 2016 at 11:33 am

Will Sales Associates start making commission?

38 Stephan March 10, 2016 at 11:41 am

The “pain of paying” is very real. For an even better experience do away with it altogether. Make the merchandise free.

39 Urso March 15, 2016 at 11:03 am

Just think of the volume!

40 JK Brown March 10, 2016 at 11:54 am

This only works well for low traffic stores. After I’ve spent the time making a selection the last thing I want to do is try to find or wait around for a sales person to free up. Once traffic picks up, but the staffing isn’t increased, I’d expect loss of sales as customers walk out leaving their selections dumped somewhere.

I’ve done this. Then you go home and order it off Amazon. Or these days, while you are waiting for a sales person just order it from Amazon on your phone.

41 Jeffrey Deutsch March 10, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Hiding the cash register also forces shoppers to interact with the salespeople

What brone said. I don’t like that.

Then again, that’s why I’m no one’s personal shopper. I suspect high-end boutiques mainly deal with folks selected and hired specifically for things like this.

42 Bacon Wrapped March 10, 2016 at 5:03 pm

I’m okay with this trend. I’m also okay with the correlated increase in hand sanitizer stations in public places.

43 Albigensian March 11, 2016 at 12:26 pm

“We’re downplaying that last transactional part of the experience” is the key statement here.

It’s the same reason that some high-end stores (and restaurants) list prices with just the numbers, omitting the currency symbol in front the number: they want to pretend it’s personal, and not just a vulgar monetary transaction. Even though you are, obviously, trading money for goods and services.

I’d assume pricey prostitutes do this also?

44 byomtov March 11, 2016 at 9:06 pm

Do we really need deep thinkers to tell us people don’t enjoy paying? Many years – decades – ago I was having lunch with a friend who is a very astute businessman, with experience in retail. It was the kind of place where you pay the cashier, and as we stood in line to pay my friend remarked, “One of the worst things you can do is make people wait to pay.”

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