Guide to Optimizing the Checkout Counter Space

Priyanka Bhadani1/29/2021

Most consumers and businesses believe that the checkout counter is important solely because it is the area where transactions are finalized. However, there are various reasons why stores should take the time to carefully design their checkout counters.

While some customers need assistance throughout their shopping journey, many shoppers' initial point of contact with employees and customer service representatives will be at the checkout counter. Therefore, the way the counter is organized, decorated, and designed will significantly impact how consumers perceive a brand.

Businesses should look at the checkout counter as a way to express their creativity and identity, not only through design but technology as well. The systems a store uses say a lot about its internal processes and dedication to customer service.

What is a Checkout Counter?

The checkout counter is the point-of-sale (POS) area in any retail store, where employees complete customer transactions. Items are rung up to update stock quantities and calculate the order total so businesses can collect funds.

The most common types of checkout counters include-

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Cash Wrap Counters

Cash wrap counters originally got their name from the area where goods are exchanged for cash and wrapped up so customers can safely transport them home. However, many things have changed in the retail industry since then and the cash wrap counter is almost unrecognizable today.

Now, the cash wrap counter consists of product displays, bulky hardware, kiosks, and advertisements. These areas are completely customizable, allowing companies to create unique layouts to optimize the available space.

Cash Register Counters

While cash register counters were once used to only store cash, modern digital models facilitate various payment methods, including check and credit card processing.

Many counters incorporate several hardware pieces, including cash drawers, monitors, and scanners. These counters can look different depending on if the business prefers mobile or stationary equipment.

Checkout Counter Considerations

Businesses should consider both the aesthetic and functionality of their checkout counters before implementation. The primary elements of a checkout counter include its-

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Size, Space, and Style

The average checkout counter ranges from 48 to 72 inches wide, depending on the available space and services provided. While nearly every retailer needs room for the POS system, bagging area, and other supplies, some companies also designate areas for merchandise, advertisements, and kiosks.

The counter should also reflect the business's brand and theme. For example, a store that sells homemade goods may have a rustic aesthetic with a wooden counter and muted colors. On the other hand, companies that sell electronics tend to have a more modern look, with white or glass counters.


The counter's location is a critical element that varies based on the available space and the store's layout. However, the placement of the checkout counter directly impacts the customers' shopping journey.

Studies show that once a consumer enters a store, they instinctively proceed to the right and shop counterclockwise until they end up at the checkout counter.

Based on this theory, experts suggest that companies place their checkout area along the left wall approximately 12-20 feet inside the store. Stores that are square in shape can set the counter in the middle of the front area as well, depending on their preference.

Regardless of the location, the checkout counter should be easy to locate and access for seamless transactions.


Businesses that utilize cash wraps should ensure they have enough counter space for additional merchandise and bagging. Employees should be able to efficiently fold, wrap, bag, and inspect products without having to rearrange hardware.

Additional counter space is also great for showcasing small items, such as candy bars and phone chargers, to encourage impulse buys.

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Checkout Counter Ideas

The checkout counter says a lot about a business and its priorities. It also enables stores to generate additional sales and collect valuable customer data. To optimize the use of the checkout counter, companies should consider the best practices-

Prioritize Health and Safety

Modern businesses are especially concerned with the health and safety of both their employees and customers as regulations have been mandated to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Consumers should feel safe and relaxed when shopping in-store, especially while in congested checkout areas. Outside of social distancing, many businesses have implemented additional safety precautions, such as-

  • Installing plexiglass on the counter, so there is a barrier between employees and customers.
  • Placing sanitizing stations at every counter so employees and customers can clean their hands after handling products.
  • Installing lights, mats, and other tools that kill germs.

By taking these steps, businesses can show their customers that they value their wellbeing.

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Encourage Impulse Buys

Point-of-sale merchandise is one of the primary origins of impulse buys. By presenting items, whether on shelves, carousels, or showcases, customers are introduced to new product lines and encouraged to make additional purchases. When done correctly, businesses can increase their average sales and order value.

Impulse buys are one of the few major advantages that traditional brick-and-mortar stores have over online retailers. A study showed that 80% of in-store customers are likely to make an impulse buy, while only 6% of mobile commerce consumers make impulse buys.

The best impulse buys are small items, such as-

  • Gift cards
  • Travel-sized products
  • Accessories
  • Seasonal products
  • Food and beverages
  • Toys
  • Chargers
  • Chapstick
  • Magazines
  • Gum

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Invest in Lighting

Checkout areas should be attractive and easy to find. One of the best ways to make the POS counter stand out is investing in great lighting.

Not only do fixtures allow customers to see the work and creativity put into the checkout counter, but they can also enhance the aesthetic. The perfect lighting is both functional and eye-catching.

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Encourage Social Media Shares

Even traditional retailers tend to rely on social media to increase brand exposure and customer reach. In addition to creating unique content, companies should encourage users to share product images and reviews.

Some businesses promote a hashtag that allows them to easily monitor consumers' posts, while others find giveaways and contests to be more effective.

Stores should put up signs around their dressing rooms, checkout counters, and product displays encouraging customers to use their hashtags and follow them on social media.

Promote Seasonal Products and Services

Promoting seasonal products gets customers excited for upcoming holidays, such as Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine's Day. Therefore, stores should use their checkout counters to incorporate seasonal decorations.

For example, stores can incorporate fall colors, scents, and decor after the back-to-school season to transition to autumn before installing Halloween decorations.

Promote Corporate Social Responsibility Ventures

Many retailers promote their corporate social responsibility (CSR), such as support for charities, to contribute to local causes and encourage participation from customers.

Stores can implement small signs at their counters, donation prompts on payment terminals, and even printed barcodes that customers can scan at self-kiosks to donate specific amounts.

By promoting CSR, customers can get a sense of the business's values and feel that their purchases support a bigger initiative. This can even increase AOV, retention rates, and advocacy.

Use the Point-of-Sale System to Enhance the Counter

The POS system is a critical piece of technology that allows retailers to record inventory data and process payments. However, bulky machines may also disrupt the flow of the in-store design. Therefore, businesses should consider updating their older cash registers to modern, sleek designs.

Modern POS solutions provide portable tablets, cash drawers, and other tools so stores can easily tweak their layout as needed. Some mobile hardware also comes with interchangeable covers so stores can switch colors to match seasonal decorations.

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Express the Brand's Identity

It is essential to find a balance between creating cluttered checkout displays and the generic POS area. Counters shouldn't be so busy with signs and decorations to the point where customers are overwhelmed, but it also shouldn't be completely bare.

Stores can use their checkout counter to express their brand, values, and voice. For example, many small businesses display photos of their store when they first started and as they grew, showing customers their journey. Companies can also use artwork from local artists to show their support for their community.

Many businesses also place a television behind the counter to display their products, promotions, and events through-

  • Slideshows
  • Demonstration videos
  • Reviews
  • Brand logo
  • CSR efforts

Essential Parts of a Point-of-Sale System

Before setting up the checkout counter, businesses need to understand the different hardware involved in a POS system. While there are various components that stores can choose to implement, the average POS solution uses several tools, including-

  • Payment Processing Hardware
Perhaps the most important component of a POS system is the payment processing hardware, as it enables businesses to collect credit and debit card payments. The payment terminal is typically integrated with POS software so it can transfer financial information to back-end solutions.

Payment terminals vary depending on the type of technology a company uses. For example, many stores have installed terminals that accept magstripe, chip, and contactless payments to maximize their potential sales.

  • Cash Drawer
The cash drawer is an essential component of any POS system as it securely stores money, receipts, and other sensitive paperwork. When hooked up directly with the POS software, the cash drawer opens automatically when the order is totaled. Once the drawer is shut, the software then triggers the receipt printer.

Cash drawers are robust to withstand the weight of bills and coins, as well as the constant opening and closing throughout the day. Many are also equipped with an additional key so managers can open the drawer manually if the software malfunctions.

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  • Customer Display
The customer display is optional but convenient for shoppers as they are able to see the cost of their order as the cashier rings it up. Stores can also use displays to convey customized messages, such as "Thank you for shopping with us!"

  • Monitor
There are many types of monitors that stores can use, from the traditional desktop to touch screens. However, many businesses have transitioned to touch screen monitors as panel monitors tend to be bulky and harder to navigate.

With a touch screen monitor, employees can interact with the computer without a mouse or keyboard, saving counter space.

  • Keyboard and Mouse
For companies that still use traditional monitors, the keyboard and mouse act as an interface to the POS software. There are various sizes and types of keyboards stores can use depending on their needs and available space.

Many restaurants and retailers have special functions that require programmable keyboards. Some keyboards even come with a card reader where users swipe their IDs to access the software.

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  • Barcode Scanner and Scale
Barcode scanners come in a range of sizes, from handheld devices to an installed countertop. Many small businesses start with a handheld scanner wired to the POS hardware, allowing them to quickly ring up items.

Once the software recognizes the barcode, it instantaneously pulls all the product's information, records the price, and updates stock quantities. This eliminates the need to manually record transactions, which often increases human error.

Some businesses, such as grocery stores, may also need a scale to calculate the cost of goods by weight.

  • Receipt Printer
Many customers also want a record of the transaction, therefore most businesses install a receipt printer. However, modern POS solutions now have an email feature that sends customers their receipts virtually, reducing paper waste.

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