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How Retailers Can Minimize the Impact of Rising Omicron Covid Cases on In-store Sales

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

Fresh concern over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, now detected in 50 countries and 19 US states, is resulting in a return to masks, hand-sanitizer and social distancing. 

With winter and the holiday season upon us, rising Covid rates spells potentially bad news for brick-and-mortar retail. This year, e-commerce sales are up over 25% on pre-pandemic levels, according to McKinsey & Company, but the experience of shopping online is no match for the feel-good factor of heading to the mall with friends or being able to touch and trial a product in-store before you buy. 

Retailers are once again faced with the challenge of keeping in-store shoppers safe and separated. Moreover, they need to do this while providing a richer, more personalised experience. 

One solution being adopted by forward-thinking brands such as Samsung, Pandora, Burberry and Nike, is using software tools to better choreograph their in-store and online customer experience with scheduled appointments, virtual queues and fast-track order pickups. 

By enabling retailers to holistically improve their experience, operations and data, this suite of technology-driven Retail Choreography tools is proven to increase customer acquisition, sales, loyalty and brand advocacy, while providing potentially touch-less experiences and greater reassurances around in-store capacities and waiting times. 

Let’s look at each in turn. 

 

1. Appointment Scheduling for In-store Services, Shopping Visits and Virtual Services

Between July and September 2021, Qudini carried out quantitative research among 2,000 US consumers to discover preferences and behavior when it comes to scheduling appointments. 

The study found that 77% of respondents wanted to be able to schedule at least one type of appointment. These included appointments for in-store services that enable customers to pre-plan visiting times; appointments for virtual services, which can be held over video conferencing platforms from home (such as Zoom or Go-In-Store); plus appointments just for store visits (also known as “Book to shop” or “Click and meet”, which allow retailers to better manage capacities and social distancing.

Using an appointment booking system a customer can book any one of these appointment types from any channel (website, app, QR code, in-store etc) at any time of the day or night. They then receive reminders by email and SMS before checking-in and being verified in-store or logging-on via video. 

According to a Samsung CX Leader, “appointment booking has enabled us to better forecast, not only staffing and resource, but also parts as well.”

The top three reasons customers thought appointment scheduling was useful, according to the survey, were Covid-19 protection (32%), efficiency and time saving (29%) and allowing for better planning of daily tasks (24%). Moreover, the business case for appointment scheduling is undeniable – with 33% of customers who have used an appointment service in the last 12 months saying it made them more likely to visit the retailer in the first place; 24% saying it drove them to buy something from the retailer; 29% saying it has made them more likely to return to the retailer; and 21% stating it drove them to tell their friends about the retailer. 

 

Omicron

 

2. Using a Digital Waitlist App to Manage Walk-in Customers in a Virtual Queue

The Qudini survey respondents further said that if a retailer, which has waits for service in their stores, enabled them to join a virtual line and receive SMS updates about their wait, 53% would be more likely to visit the retailer; 48% would be more likely to buy something in the store; 55% would be more likely to return to the store again; and 53% would be more likely to tell their friends about the retailer. 

Again, keeping customers safe and socially distanced from one another is a key driving factor for using a virtual queuing system. But there are other important benefits such as keeping customers more informed, more comfortable and more secure about their position in line, while also allowing them to use their time more productively. 

By equipping a store host with a digital waitlist app / virtual queue system means that they can greet customers wanting service and provide them with an accurate estimate of their wait time and keep them updated as their turn draws near (similar to how Apple stores use tablets to enable their store hots to greet walk-in customers before assigning the right advisor to them when it’s their turn – but with the additional capability to provide accurate wait time information verbally and to their phone in the process). 

Customers can also be given the option to scan a QR code or text a phone number to join the queue. As a result, more customers will approach stores for service now that queues are not visible. While many retailers experience a significant (62%) reduction in walkouts due to better management of walk-ins and retailers that implement virtual queues report both increased sales and increased productivity amongst staff. 

“Virtual queuing has enabled us to have a much more pleasant in-store customer experience.  People can come in and complete their sight tests a bit quicker, which actually means they’re more likely to stay on and buy glasses,” a Specsavers franchise partner tells us. 

 

 

3. Fast-Track BOPIS Click and Collect Pickups from the Desk, Doorside or Curbside 

By using a Click and Collect Pickup System to enable BOPIS customers to check-in by phone when they arrive in the parking lot of a retail store, allows staff to bring out the order and place it in the vehicle for a more touch-less transaction. 

This seamless curbside order collection drives online sales and loyalty, due to significant reductions in waiting times, now that store teams have fewer steps to complete when getting each customer their order. The same experience can also be provided to customers arriving on foot from the doorside or curbside.

The Qudini consumer survey respondents said that if a retailer were to enable them to check-in by phone to collect online orders from the front of the store by foot or by car, 53% would be more likely to buy something online; 58% would be more likely to return to the store again; and 54% would be more likely to choose the retailer over their competitors. 

“I’d say that 20-30% of customers buy something while they wait using the click-and-collect system,” one home-furniture retail store manager reveals. 

 

To Summarize

Against a backdrop of Covid uncertainty and enhanced digital behavior, consumers are looking to retail brands to offer technology solutions that are safe, convenient and can be easily planned into their daily lives. 

By embedding these three retail choreography solutions into the heart of future-facing strategies, brands will ensure they remain relevant, while providing safe, personalized and convenient service environments for all. 

 

Qudini’s appointment scheduling, virtual queuing and fast-track order pick-up software offers a convenient and premium service that drives traffic, sales and loyalty. Our Retail Choreography framework helps retailers to holistically improve their experience, operations and data to enhance profitability and drive lasting brand relevance.

 For more information on this or our other solutions such as online event booking, contact us at info@qudini.com

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Latest consumer survey report

Our latest consumer survey report shows which types of retail stores and banks customers want to be able to schedule appointments within…

Recent consumer survey report

Our recent consumer survey report shows how the pandemic has changed consumer shopping habits and which habits will be here to stay…

Upcoming Webinar

Our Upcoming Webinar will present consumer insights on how the pandemic has changed consumer shopping habits. Sign-up below for Tuesday October 12th (2pm ET | 11am PT).