Most stores might be closed, but those that are open have one thing in common – long queues stretching down the street.
These queues have been put in place by retailers for good reason – to limit the number of customers inside a store at any given time to enable social distancing – but surely, in our digital era, there is a better way to manage customers without drawing parallels to the rationing queues that emerged during World War II?
As many retailers wait with bated breath for an announcement from 10 Downing Street for permission to reopen their stores, now is the time where many retail leaders are thinking carefully about how they can do so in a way that is safe for both customers and employees.
However, if all stores adopted the same approach that we’re currently seeing on the High Street, the UK pavements could become overcrowded with customers lining up in long queues, contradicting the social distancing measures that still need to be in place.
We’ve seen an explosion in the number of retailers coming to us asking about our retail queuing system and appointment scheduling software, suggesting that many retailers have the same public safety concerns that we do. In fact, many of the retailers approaching us have said that they will not open their stores without queue management or appointment booking software in place.
We recently surveyed 2,000+ UK consumers to see how retail in the Coronavirus era could look like – here are some of our results:
UK consumers are avoiding all types of stores as much as possible
- 37% of consumers have eliminated non-essential trips to stores and other public places. 43% have heavily reduced trips. Only 7% have not changed their behaviour.
- 66% of typical banking customers are avoiding branches and 27% are reducing visits. 37% are avoiding pharmacies and 47% are reducing visits. Only 22% are avoiding grocery stores, yet 60% are reducing visits.
- For all other retail store types, 72-81% of their customers were avoiding trips to stores in the weeks leading up to the lockdown.
Shoppers are more likely to use click and collect services during Covid-19
- Only 10% of UK consumers use click and collect services frequently and 30% occasionally.
- 42% of consumers are more likely to use click and collect services from grocery and pharmacy stores during Covid-19. Across “other retailers in general”, 26% are more likely to use click and collect services.
- 35% of Baby Boomers plan to increase use of click and collect services, despite being the least likely age group to use click and collect services outside of the Coronavirus outbreak.
There’s a strong demand for virtual service from every type of retailer
- 48% of consumers want ‘essential’ retailers (banks, pharmacies & grocery stores) to provide virtual service by phone, and 15% want virtual service by video.
- For all other retail types, 16% want virtual service by phone and 12% by video.
- Across all types of retailers, younger generations are more than twice (113%) as likely to want video service from brands than their Baby Boomer counterparts.
3 steps retailers can take to safely reopen stores
Crucially, stores right now are closed and this is a significant contributor to job losses and economic downturns in the UK. The government is grappling with how to reopen stores in a secure way that protects the public, but if more stores reopen, this could easily lead to excessive queues outside of stores and place the safety of the general public at risk.
1) Create streamlined customer management processes
Even outside of lockdown, customers will be avoiding stores as much as possible. To build customer confidence in visiting them, brands will need enhanced customer management processes that ensure social distancing inside and outside of the store. Allowing customers to pre-book their visit online or managing walk-in customers in virtual queues using queue management software that updates them by SMS and smartphone as their turn draws near can help with this.
2) Invest in contactless click and collect services
Generation-wide interest in click and collect services suggests that, for the foreseeable future, stores will serve more as contactless fulfilment hubs than anything else. Therefore, retailers should offer store entrance and curbside pick-up that enables customers to have an efficient and contactless pick-up experience.
3) Build personalised relationships through virtual service
With customers reducing their time in store as much as possible, brands wanting to build more personalised relationships should take their one-to-one services and events online to engage customers. Based on younger demographic interest in video services, it’s likely that this interest extends beyond the Coronavirus outbreak – it could even act as a catalyst for ongoing virtualised brand interactions in the future.
If retailers could use software to safely manage virtual queues, schedule visits and enable customers to quickly collect online orders without entering stores, then perhaps stores could stay open throughout the pandemic, jobs could stay intact and spend could remain within the economy.