You’ve probably heard of the idea that performance is multi-dimensional. You can’t always improve your performance just by beefing up your catalog, or cutting costs, or speeding up an operation. Every aspect of performance affects the others. If you offer your customers a new option, how much more time and money will you spend on inventory? If you spend less on training, are your employees going to work too slowly? And so on.

You might think of time, cost, and variety as three dimensions of a solid figure that contains quality, and operations management as the work of maximizing the size of that figure. This picture is helpful, but it can be misleading, because it creates the impression that controlling quality is merely a numbers game. This might not be so bad for manufacturers, but as a retailer you know that your real stock in trade is the customer’s experience. And an experience is more than just a function of measurable quantities.

Of course, customers appreciate low prices, fast service, and a great selection of products. But they also hate to see any one of these things aggressively pursued. There’s a strong perception that enhancing operational performance means sacrificing quality. The customer wants to get through the line quickly, but doesn’t want to see you looming behind your employees with a stop watch.

If you want to improve performance without interrupting the customer’s experience, look for ways to absorb and integrate information seamlessly at the point of sale.