Optimize Your Checkout Counter to Boost Impulse Buys

Merchandising experts reveal tips for using this prime selling space to boost revenue.
Choose the right merchandise to display on your counter, such as impulse buys and high margin items. (Photo: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock)

Every inch of real estate in the small retail store is valuable. If you’re not taking a strategic approach to merchandising and optimizing it for upsell and impulse buying opportunities, you’re missing out.

That’s especially true with the checkout counter, described by merchandising experts at Kizer & Bender, a retail consultancy based in Illinois, as “prime selling space.”


Cluttering or overcrowding the checkout counter space can minimize the number of impulse buys, according to merchandising experts Kizer & Bender. (Photo: Kizer & Bender)

“It’s a space that should be merchandised with care,” said co-founder Rich Kizer. “Smart retailers plan which high-margin items should be merchandised at the checkout and for how long.”

The counter presents a ripe opportunity to capitalize on the impulse shopper. “This makes the checkout the perfect place to display the ‘I just have to have this’ impulse items, creating add-on sales that add up to big bucks,” said co-founder Georganne Bender.

Do’s & don’ts in merchandising the counter space

Kizer, Bender and other experts offered some do’s and don’ts.

DO: Change the merchandise assortment as often as you change displays at the front of the store, which should be at least once a week, said Kizer and Bender.

DO: Choose the right merchandise to display. “Put impulse items at the counter and those that are high margin, and make sure the product is showcased — not the basket or fixture it’s sitting in,” Jeff Green, president and CEO, Jeff Green Partners, a consultancy providing retail analytical and interpretive services.

DON’T: Overload the counter space or cram the checkout aisle. “Shoppers need enough space to comfortably complete their transaction. The key word being comfortably,” said Kizer. This is especially important for the main impulse buyer, the female shopper, as they tend to want to place handbags and the purchase on the counter, explained Bender.

DON’T: Place non-strategic items on the counter. “We see too many stores that load up the counter with signing, random product, donation jars — you name it. This is frustrating to customers,” said Bender.

DO: Identify upsell items to customers. Does the customer need batteries to go with that flashlight? The perfect necklace to complement that sweater? “Direct sell of those pieces on the counter is optimal,” said Green, and all it takes is a quick phrase, such as “have you seen this XYZ, it would make a good gift.”


Engage in conversation with customers at the checkout line and mention sales or specials. (Photo: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock)

DO: “Encourage cashiers to engage the customer in conversation, asking, ‘Did you find everything you were looking for today?’” advised Kizer. Cashiers should also mention upcoming in-store events as well as any daily or weekly specials.

Related: How 6 Retailers Use Discounts and Promotions to Boost Sales

DO: “Keep a supply of most frequently forgotten items underneath the checkout counters,” said Bender.

“When a customer says, ‘I forgot to get xyz, oh well, I’ll get it next time,’ the cashier can then reach under the checkout and say, ‘I have that for you right here.’” -Georganne Bender

DO: Surround customers with unique products on the pathway to the counter. “Best Buy and Old Navy do a great job with this,” said Bender. “We were in a Lush store last week that had small shelving units on the sales floor near the checkout to create a kind of a queue. It worked, and it’s something smaller retailers can do.”

DO: Use any potential wall space behind the counter. “Retailers who are lucky enough to have a wall behind the checkout should use that space to present an irresistible product story. It’s almost like having an additional store window,” said Kizer.

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