Appointment booking software has become a highly sought after customer experience management (CEM) tool in the retail sector – it has the ability to drive traffic to stores and online channels, and to better manage customer footfall by staggering visits throughout the day.
According to Fact.MR, appointment booking software is projected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 10% from 2020 to 2030. But what are the pros and cons for retailers wanting to implement and online appointment scheduling system across their store portfolio?
Firstly, let’s take a look at how it works and what it does.
An online booking system allow customers to easily schedule an appointment with a retailer by selecting a relevant time-slot online, or through a customer services representative or kiosk. Appointments can be for in-store specialist services, online services or events, online order pickups and store entry.
Uses of online booking system
An online booking system or appointment scheduling system allows retailers to create a multitude of customer journeys, including:
Bookings for in-store service
In-store services have proven particularly popular in recent years, with many retailers recognizing their ability to draw new customers into stores and keep them engaged for longer.
Popular services include beauty, makeup and skincare tutorials, personal styling and shopping advice, technical repairs to digital devices, product consultations and more.
Some examples from high profile retailers include luxury fashion house, Burberry, and its in-store personal shopping service, or Samsung’s ability to book one-to-one tutorials and repair services.
One particularly innovative example comes from sportswear giant, Nike, who use an online booking system for its Express Shopping service. This allows customers wanting to buy specific items who don’t have time to search the store to do so quickly, and it gives them access to expert advice and support.
Bookings for store entry
To better manage customer footfall, many retailers have started allowing customers to skip the lines to enter stores by making a booking in advance. This use case has proven particularly popular during COVID-19 for its ability to reinforce social distancing measures by staggering customer visits throughout the day and limiting the number of customers in a store at once. It also reduces or eliminates the need for customers to wait in physical lines outside of stores.
Bookings for video calls
Virtual appointments for services have sharply risen in popularity as a result of the pandemic. Retailers and consumers alike have come to quickly realize just how easy and useful online appointments can be.
With booking software, customers wanting to receive support services, such as product advice, personal shopping and styling or technical support can easily select an available time-slot that suits them. When the preselected time arrives, customers click on the video link in their confirmation email and are directed through to the video call with their consultant.
Online order pickup
Appointment scheduling software is also commonly used for buy online pickup in-store or BOPIS services. Instead of asking your customers to wait in a physical line to collect their online orders, they can preselect a time-slot to collect their orders from inside the store or from the car park. Many booking systems will allow the customer to register that they have arrived at the store via an online check-in process, notifying store associates that they are ready and waiting. This approach gives stores associates more time to prepare orders in advance, making the process less time-consuming for customers and colleagues.
In-store or online events and experiences
Another popular use case for an appointment scheduling system is for events and experiences. Retailers hosting in-store or online events and experiences can allow their customers to easily register a place and receive regular pre and post-event communication to keep them engaged and informed.
This software allows customers to seamlessly manage event registrations, prioritize internal resources and increase efficiency. It has proven to be a particularly popular during the coronavirus pandemic, as it allows retailers to keep consumers engaged with online webinars and events.
Benefits of online booking for retailers
There are multitude of benefits when using an online booking system, including:
Driving more footfall traffic to stores
Allowing customers to book an appointment for an in-store service or event is a great way to drive more traffic to your stores. In today’s e-commerce environment, convincing customers to take a trip down to your store instead of ordering it online isn’t always easy. However, in-store shoppers spend more and are more engaged with your brand – especially those with an appointment. In-store services create a demand for customers to visit your stores, and a booking system is a great way to promote these services.
An online booking system helps retailers to increase sales by enabling customers to easily book appointments with sales associates. Instead of visiting a crowded store and trying to flag the attention of a consultant, they can have guaranteed face time and receive the advice or support they’re looking for. Not only that, store managers can pair customers up with the most relevant sales associates based on the needs highlighted in the booking process.
Staggering customer visits
One of the problems many retailers face is having customers come in for in-store services during peak times. Not only does this create a hectic few hours, it also means store associates have little to do for the rest of the day. A booking system allows retailers to decrease store associate dwell time by staggering these visits throughout the day.
Staggering customer visits throughout the day is also useful during COVID-19, as it allows retailers to manage and limit the number of customers allowed in the store at once.
Building stronger relationships
Instead of simply focusing on increasing sales figures, many retailers are trying to build stronger customer relationships. According to Gartner, 73% of chief marketing officers say they will depend on current customers over the next year rather than developing new markets to foster growth.
Allowing customers to book appointments with store associates is a great way to strengthen relationships with customers. You can showcase your product expertise, provide an efficient, engaging, tech-driven experience and keep them informed throughout the process.
Preparing for customer visits in advance
A booking system also comes with the benefit of allowing stores to properly prepare for customer visits in advance. Store managers can see how many customers with bookings are coming into the store on any given day and make arrangements for additional team members to come in if required to adequately manage walk-ins. For BOPIS orders, store associates can prepare orders in advance to ensure a speedy pickup process. Store associates hosting in-store or online bookings can also make preparations to ensure they have the relevant information to hand and can counter any questions the customer might have.
Disadvantages of online booking for businesses
Some problems with online booking systems are:
It requires digital expertize and internet access
While the vast majority of consumers are tech-savvy and have internet access on their phones, a small percentage still don’t. Launching an appointment booking system across your store portfolio could therefore mean alienating some consumers.
The silver lining is that the best appointment scheduling systems allow customers to sign up for appointments in a multitude of ways. Customers should be able to book an appointment through your website, app, social media pages etc, but also via SMS, through a store associate or customer host at the store entrance, or through the call center.
It’s also worth pointing out that the pandemic has caused a shift in digital adoption figures, with many Baby Boomer consumers utilizing digital technology for online shopping, BOPIS, video calling and more. Plus, focussing your attention on modern, omnichannel customers, who are known to spend more, is not the worst idea, anyway.
It requires store associates to get behind the initiative
Another potential disadvantage of an online booking system is that it requires store associates to actively use the platform, which may prove challenging if they are not properly onboarded and informed about how to use the system, or convinced of its potential benefits.
A thorough, engaging and informative onboarding process across your store portfolio is therefore highly recommended. At Qudini, we take the time to train store associates on the benefits of using our software, and most become experts within half a day. This has a huge impact on the internal adoption of the technology and increase usage and sales figures as a result.
It needs to be properly promoted to customers
We’ve already highlighted the perks of an online booking system, but these perks only come into fruition if the booking service is actively promoted across a range of mediums. We would recommend promoting across your online channels, inside your stores or shop fronts and through outdoor and print advertising.