Is Home Depot’s Expedited Checkout Lean?

It’s warming up here in North Texas… as such businesses like Home Depot are EXTREMELY BUSY places.

Yesterday I joined the crowd to buy some tomatoes and other vegetables to plant in our garden.  And, yes, the checkout line was backed up in a big way.

Expedited Checkout

Is Home Depot Expedited Checkout LeanAs I stood in line waiting I noticed a young Home Depot associate walking up to people and scanning their items.

Once he was done he ran a Home Depot card through his scanner and handed it back the customer.

The young man eventually got to me and scanned all of my items and handed me my own Expedited Checkout card as shown in the picture.

Once I made it to the cashier I simply handed the young lady the card.  She scanned it with one swipe… I paid and was on on my way.

Is This Lean?

So, my question is do you see this as a lean improvement?  After all, it did speed the process up from the customer’s perspective.

One could even argue this was analogous to what we do when practicing SMED.  In other words, we try to do as much preparation before the machine stops.

But, skeptics may see this as a bandaid to a broken, unbalanced, process.

In other words, instead of attempting to fix the root cause of the problem (checkout capacity) they’re throwing people with scanners at it.

What Do You Think?

So, I’m curious, what do you think?  Is this “Expedited Checkout” process lean or not?  If not, what would you suggest they do?

And, if you could add to this improvement what would you suggest the lean thinking Home Depot folks do?

24 Comments

  1. Jeremy Adams

    March 31, 2014 - 9:41 am

    Well I think it’s Lean from the perspective that they are trying to improve the customer experience. But as you said, the real root cause of the issue is a temporary capacity issue.

    Perhaps the scanner guys can actually accept payment like they do at Apple stores. That would seem to be the next step. Of course, they’d need to figure out how to ensure people paid. Maybe a person stands at the door and checks receipts?

    • Ron Pereira

      March 31, 2014 - 9:46 am

      Thanks for the comment, Jeremy. Great idea on the Apple Store checkout process.

  2. Bob Wallner

    March 31, 2014 - 10:21 am

    I think this would fall more under the TOC umbrella of increasing throughput by exploiting the bottleneck. People still have to wait (waste)…but by pre-scanning your order they can relieve the bottleneck and get the cash quicker.

    • Ron Pereira

      March 31, 2014 - 10:42 am

      Thanks for the comment, Bob!

  3. Jason Stokes

    March 31, 2014 - 11:19 am

    Why not have the person scanning allow you to pay? Square and other devices make it remarkably simple. I don’t get why you need to wait in the queue to find a payment person unless they’re using cash.

    Further, why have multiple checkout lanes each with their own queue at different speeds? Learn from Fry’s and go to the single queue.

    • Ron Pereira

      March 31, 2014 - 11:41 am

      Thanks for the comment, Jason! And, yes, agree… taking payment immediately makes a lot sense to me.

      Are you excited for opening day? I sure am! 🙂

  4. Chad Walters

    March 31, 2014 - 1:08 pm

    I would not characterize this process change as being Lean. It’s merely using an additional person to handle the same capacity but adding additional steps (handoffs, scanning, handing out of cards), materials (production of scanned cards), and information (opportunities for missed scanned items appears).

    This provides the appearance of reducing waiting time but the same could be done if that scanner was instead opening and running a register/checkout and cutting wait time in half through doubling of handling capacity. It makes people feel better and less stagnant but the time saved is not as strong as it could be.

    • Ron Pereira

      March 31, 2014 - 1:11 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Chad! If Home Depot hired you to help them improve this process what would you do differently?

    • Dirk Crouse

      April 3, 2014 - 8:41 pm

      I concur completely with the comments from Chad. I would only add that self checkouts actually resolve this issue without adding labour as do the walkabout checkout option.

  5. Lil

    April 1, 2014 - 6:27 am

    Why don’t they have self-serve terminals?

  6. Joel Gross

    April 1, 2014 - 6:30 am

    Fascinating discussion, Ron. But, is there a different way to frame the question?

    “Lean” is not a state of being. It’s not a matter of black and white, or of yes vs. no. Lean is an ideal that we strive to achieve but may never reach, which is what drives us to improve. The discussion becomes, to what degree is this change a step in the direction of the Lean ideal? The definition of ideal, when applied to payment for items purchased, is an interesting one in and of itself. If we assume, at a high level, that the ideal process is one in that produces the highest quality, at the lowest cost with the shortest lead time, then the jury may still be out. It is likely that lead time has improved, likely at the expense of cost and without an understanding to the impact of quality.

  7. Sean

    April 1, 2014 - 6:31 am

    This might not be true lean, but you have to think from a business perspective, if I add additional resources e.g. (registers, check-out lanes, etc) which all take up floor space and add cost but then only use these additional registers 10% of the time (% chosen as an example). Do I build my business model to accommodate exceptions i.e. peak times of a year like spring or around how my business acts/performs 90% of the time? Personally, I think they have chosen to be proactive and are reducing the “wait” time for each customer by pre-scanning all of their items and now the register operator does not need to spend time handling, looking for barcodes, or the dreaded lookup as no barcode is on an item. They are using equipment they are already paid for and have not created another use for them. We have to remember we can’t look at a process at a single point and time but evaluate it and the data over time, because if you would have come in a month earlier, would that line have been there or let’s go a month later? This would be a special occurrence, due to the change in seasons and people planting their gardens, so me personally, I wouldn’t want to build processes for 3 to 5 weeks in a year and I doubt others would as well.

    • Luciano

      April 2, 2014 - 8:26 pm

      Very good observation, sometimes the effort necessary to improve a process simply do not result in a corresponding business benefit.

  8. Denise Gadd

    April 1, 2014 - 7:27 am

    Attacking the Root Cause (Checkout Capacity) could warrent more labor and/or equipment. Lean definitions formed earlier in time may have Lean Practitioners thinking it is a “becoming very efficient at a “Non-value-added” activity.

    Technology implementation (scanning to expedite) increases the speed of the process and improves the customer experience. Consumers are willing to “pay” as time is valuable to us all. The alternative more checkouts and/or self-service may have the same queue in the long term. Also the scan process is flexible and space-saving.

  9. Jesse Stevenson

    April 1, 2014 - 8:53 am

    I would be interested in knowing “why”, Why did they implement this? Go down the path of the 5 whys? In addition I just have general questions such as did customer survey feedback warrent this? Is this a temporary thing, trial basis thing, what are they looking to gain? Are the customers going to come to expect this? Are there scanners for each check out line? What’s the criteria for the scanners to operate, i.e., if there are more than 10 people in line? On the surface it seems like a good idea, however I just have questions at this point. Great conversation though!

  10. Bruce roorda

    April 1, 2014 - 9:53 am

    I have personally experienced the process firsthand. The checkout process was definitively improved by what would be a measure of wait time and cycle time. While it could be argued the improvement is throwing bodies and hand scanner tools at a problem, I would argue that checkout lines are far from a comparative to takt time and Kanban processes. The must be scalable cost effectively.

    Scalability is difficult to measure as flow is for the most part random. Unless Home Depot, in this example, could receipt a complete order before someone arrives at the store, it would be difficult to anticipate the flow beyond post checkout pull planning data to chart and anticipate volume on any given day and at any given hour under any given weather condition. I would suspect they may be collecting such data for staffing resources. Even then, it would be difficult to have a fully scalable staff waiting in the wings off site to come in when flow unexpectedly increases such as a change in weather changes. Likewise adding banks of checkout lines and self-serve lines for anticipated full capacity could add more waste. Even then it is marginally successful as can be experienced at most Wallmarts when lines extend and there is not enough staffing to work the checkout registers.

    I would offer from personal experience, the improvement of having someone scan my cart while waiting in line to speed checkout at the register is an improvement to speeding the checkout process. Certainly a VOC survey and time study with resource allocation and cost accounting data to confirm the improvement would confirm a yes or no to the improvement. However, where quick and simple beats slow and complex every time as the true essence of Lean, IMHO, HD nailed it by coming up with a quick, simple, and scalable solution to their customer experience which would easily fit on an A3. I believe Ohno would approve as much. On the other hand, analytics and data hounds the likes of my Lean Six Sigma compatriots and a myriad of other process improvement methodologies may beg to differ. Notwithstanding the waste of resources, I for one would agree a full blown CIP of analysis and reports would certainly be interesting to review.

  11. David

    April 3, 2014 - 8:43 am

    Sean and Bruce nailed it. Quickly diagnose and solve a problem with relatively little cost. Flexible, cross trained work force moves to where capacity is needed when capacity is needed. I suppose this is an experiment. Data will be collected and analyzed. Learn by experimenting. I like Steven Spear’s quote in High Velocity Edge, “you can’t design a perfect system, you discover it through experimentation.” Maybe the next experiment will be taking payment. And the next step might be no physical check-out stations. Of course the unintended consequence is less spontaneous purchases of all the items cluttering the check-out queue.

  12. Rui

    April 3, 2014 - 11:26 am

    I think I’ve seen this too in coffee shops – long wait time to order due to temp bottleneck at counter. So customer waits less and store does not have to spend capital on new registers. I think trying anything (experimenting) and seeing if it works (PDSA cycle) aligns with Lean Thinking.

  13. Mark Graban

    April 3, 2014 - 11:56 am

    I’d suggest that “is it Lean?” is the wrong question to ask.

    Better questions are “is it better for the customer?” or “is it better for Home Depot in the long term?”

    How do they evaluate the effectiveness of this countermeasure, this new process, over time?

    One thing I don’t understand about their method… what happens if you put more items in your cart after that scan by the associate?

    • Karina Arceo

      April 5, 2014 - 1:40 pm

      Hi Mark,

      Good point. Should we do a survey or ask the client if the new process is better for them? each time me made a change? Maybe is the answer to your question, “How evaluate the effectiveness of this countermeasure”?

      And definitely, they would have to take off all the items remaining in the line, usually this last products (candies and soda) are there to tempt us haha.

      Greetings!

  14. Peter Williams

    April 3, 2014 - 1:09 pm

    I am not to worried about the specific label as it does improve the client experience. I am sure we agree that waiting in a queue is wasteful of our time. The checkout process is a bottleneck and HD have simply attempted to balance the loading by moving the scanning upstream. The clients get a little more valued interaction with staff and the final payment process moves more quickly. The idea of paying the scanner operator certainly has some merit (unless someone requires change) but really is the equivalent of adding more checkouts. The current version of their solution allows each station to be proficient at their specialty. It would be perceived as better for customers and that should translate quickly into better for HD.

  15. Nigel Parsons

    April 4, 2014 - 5:27 am

    My view would be that Home Depot are looking at the bottleneck and trying to optimise throughput through the bottleneck as a problem in isolation. If I compare what they are doing with supermarket stores in the UK, I see a different approach to the same problem. As a customer I have effectively 3 options when I enter a store.
    If I have a store loyalty card, I can pick up a scanner on entry, scan everything as I go, this gives me a running total on what I am spending, so I can effectively control my expenditure, I can also pack my goods as I go. At the end I go to one of the dedicated scanner lanes (no queue), download the scan, pay for my goods and exit the store in teh minimum time.
    Second, if I only need a few items I can pick up a basket, grab these, and go to one of the self-service tills (rarely a queue), or basket only till, pay and leave.
    The third option is to go through the traditional route, fill up my trolley and queue at the traditional till.
    Now if Home Depot really thought about their customers, and were lean thinkers they would give you the same options.

  16. John Payson

    April 4, 2014 - 2:13 pm

    Well it’s expediting. It’s a form of self-checkout. Stop and Shop stores in the Northeast just give a hand-held scanner to the customer. They do use a card (customer club card) and so the customer can scan their purchases AS they pick it up. Then you do not need to hire scanner holders, which seems more like a “lean” step I suppose.
    Overall, this stuff is a transition step to a different checkout model, one that will have RFID in every item and just passing by or through an antenna set checks the items.

    The objection heard all of the time is how to watch for theft? Somebody mentioned a “checker” at the door? That’s what they do at Sams Club. Just a deterrent to theft.

    I have wondered WHY the check-outs are just in the open, and aren’t arranged so they go right out the door. Instead they have this huge foyer of everyone wandering around, where the dishonest can attempt to blend in and exit. Why? As a customer, I would rather this. I have been in one of the local Lowes, where the check-out area IS right up against an (not “the” but “an”) exit, they don’t have “checkers” at the door.