With new lockdown rules now in place across a number of European countries, including the UK, retailers are once again forced to close their stores and find new ways of driving sales in the interim. With stores acting as fulfilment hubs for click and collect services, retailers could also maximise the use of their stores team by enabling them to offer virtual appointments to customers at home.
During first lockdown Qudini helped a number of retailers to deliver new virtual services that enabled their customers to pre-book time to connect with an advisor by phone and video or to attend digital events held by brands online, including Samsung, IQOS, NatWest and Brown Thomas (part of Selfridges group).
In both April 2020 and October 2020 Qudini surveyed 2,000 UK consumers to understand their opinions around virtual services before and during the pandemic. This report presents some of our key findings.
Download the full report here
April 2020 survey of 2,000 consumers about virtual appointments
When asking consumers about their interest in virtual services from different types of retailers at the start of the April 2020 lockdown our first survey to 2,000 UK consumers showed that:
- Half (54%) of consumers wanted to receive virtual service from essential retailers: grocery stores, banks and pharmacies. 48% by phone and 15% by video.
- A third (31%) of consumers wanted to receive virtual service from non-essential retailers: grocery stores, banks and pharmacies. 16% by phone and 12% by video.
Across all types of retailers younger generations were slightly more likely to want virtual service by phone than Baby Boomers. However, they were more than twice (113%) as likely to want video service from brands.
The avid interest in virtual service from these younger demographics also suggests this interest extends beyond the Coronavirus outbreak and that Covid-19 could act as a catalyst for a new omni-channel world where personalised interactions happen more frequently online.
October 2020 survey of 2,000 consumers about virtual appointments
In October 2020, with stores reopened we wanted to understand if consumers were still as interested in being able to access virtual service from retailers as they were during lock down. We found that:
60% of survey respondents said they would appreciate the option of being able to schedule a virtual appointment with a retail advisor by phone or video, showing a strong demand for remote service.
GenZ consumers were the most likely to want virtual services from retailers with 82% claiming it would be useful, followed by 72% of Millennials, then 60% of GenX and still 44% of Baby Boomers. There is a clear correlation between younger age groups and much greater interest in accessing virtual service by phone or video (with GenZ interest almost double that of Baby Boomers). This suggests that the ability to access virtual service from brands could be a general modern requirement that consumers have wanted outside of the pandemic and that Covid-19 will be a catalyst for.
There is also a clear correlation between higher household income groups and greater interest in virtual service from stores, suggesting that retailers who offer virtual service could improve sales amongst their most valuable customer groups.
Women and men were equally likely to want to receive virtual service from brands.
Consumer demand across different store types
In October, even when stores were open, our survey found that most retailers had an additional opportunity to engage between 7% to 25% of their Millennial and GenZ customer base and 3% to 25% of their Baby Boomer customer base by offering virtual services that their customers could schedule online. Now that stores have been forced to close again, we believe these results would be even higher.
Prior to lockdown measures being announced shoppers indicated: greatest interest from: banks/building societies, pharmacies, grocery stores, opticians/eyewear stores, phone stores, department stores, shopping malls, shoe stores and garden centres.
Followed by makeup/skincare, fashion/clothing, sportswear stores, pet stores and homeware/furniture stores where 1 in 10 (10%) of their customers want to be able to access virtual service by phone or video, even outside of store closures. This is followed by health foot stores, travel agencies and jewellery stores where 9% of their customers want to receive virtual services by phone or video.
Across most industries, Millennial and GenZ customers are more interested in the ability to receive virtual service including; make-up/skincare stores, health food stores, homeware/furniture stores, departments stores, shoe stores and beyond.
However, the Baby Boomer generation are either equally or slightly more interested in virtual service from banks/building societies, opticians/eyewear retailers, pharmacies, travel agencies, car dealerships, DIY stores and grocery retail stores.
The benefits of virtual services according to consumers
When asked what the benefit of a retailer offering virtual services would be to them (prior to November lockdown measures) 72% of Millennial and GenZ consumers stated at least one benefit if a retailer offered them this service, including that:
- 16% would be more likely to buy something online – suggesting that even when stores are open retailers can increase online sales by offering virtual appointments.
- 20% would be more likely to speak with the retailer in the first place – showing that offering virtual service will help to acquire customers and generate sales with customers who might otherwise might engage.
- 16% would be more likely to visit the retailers’ stores – – demonstrating that offering virtual services can help retailers to even drive more footfall to their stores.
- 20% would think better of the retailer and 17% would be more likely to choose the retailer over competitors – demonstrating that offering virtual services as part of their entire omni-channel offering can help brands to improve their customer relationships, brand relevance and competitive edge.
- 24% would feel safer and happier and 20% would be more likely to tell their friends about the retailer – showing that retailers can improve customer advocacy around their brand by offering customers new channels to receive personalised service within.
Virtual services appears to have double the positive impact on younger generations over Baby Boomers. Millennial and GenZ customers are twice as likely to feel safer and happier, to think better of the retailer, to speak with the retailer in the first place and to visit the retailers’ stores. However, they are 3 times more likely to buy something online and to tell their friends about the retailer as a result of the ability to schedule virtual services with brands.
This greater interest in virtual services from younger generations, even at a time when stores were open, suggests again that these types of services will remain after the pandemic and that we are entering a new age of omni-channel retailing that Covid-19 has a been a catalyst for.
Higher earning households are also more interested and more positively impact by the concept of brands offering virtual services. They were twice more likely to be converted to an online purchase and three time more likely to tell their friends about brands as a result of a retailer offering the option to schedule a fixed time to connect with an advisor by phone or video.
These insights demonstrate that, even when stores are open retailers could better engage and convert some of their higher value customers through offering virtual appointments online. All this also suggests that virtual appointments provides a powerful option to continue engaging with customers while stores are closed.
Examples of leading retailers that offered virtual services during Covid-19
Samsung enable its customers to connect with in-store Samsung support advisors for mobile device advice and support issues by enabling them to schedule an appointment from the Samsung website.
Another great example was the retail bank, NatWest, that used Qudini’s Appointment Booking Software to enable customers to schedule video banking appointments with personal bankers and mortgage advisors to take place from the comfort of their own homes.
In addition, they use the Qudini Online Event Booking Platform to enable customers to discover and book onto their Digital Lessons to learn how to use NatWest’s online banking and mobile app banking.
Another example was luxury department store retailer, Brown Thomas, which allowed customers to book virtual beauty and personal shopping appointments, by which customers can use Qudini to book a slot and connect with an in-store beauty consultant or personal advisor online.
Click for more information about virtual appointments.
Creating effective signage for your virtual services
To create a clear and efficient customer journey for virtual services, it’s vital that retailers create effective and easy to understand signage.
To help our clients to create clear signage for their virtual appointment booking offering, we’ve pulled together a guide.
How to create effective signage for appointment booking services.
Overall, our survey insights found that while queuing is a challenge that costs retailers significant revenue opportunity, virtual queuing systems serve as a powerful antidote that can even enable retailers to turn a typically negative experience into something that increases sales both online and offline, while driving strong customer relationships in the process. Ultimately, it’s about offering the right type of appointments customer want to book with banks and retail stores.