Non-essential stores are officially allowed to reopen today, but many have long lines waiting outside. Some brands are using virtual queuing apps and appointment booking systems to manage queues and prioritise social distancing.
Today’s the day retailers have been anxiously awaiting since stores closed March 23, and there’s already a strong turnout on the high streets.
According to the BBC, people have been queuing up outside shops in Manchester for over an hour, while big queues have formed outside Primark, TK Maxx and Foot Locker. Primark in London and Birmingham are also reported to have long lines outside.
But long queues outside of stores aren’t necessarily an indicator of popularity – many retailers have opted to eliminate queues altogether by implementing virtual queues or asking customers to book time-slots to enter stores.
Which high street retailers are reopening?
Many retailers seem to be taking a phased approach when reopening their stores. Retailers that only open a small percentage of stores will be able to use the experience as a pilot and implement key learnings across their wider portfolio.
- John Lewis has reopened only 2 stores today, and will reopen 13 branches in stages
- Next will reopen 25 of its 500 stores
- Debenhams will reopen 50 stores in England and three in Northern Ireland
- Marks and Spencer will open all its shops in England and Northern Ireland
- JD Sports is reopening all 309 of its stores in England
- Primark is reopening all 153 of its stores in England
- Argos will reopen 145 standalone stores for click and collect
- Topshop is reopening all its stores in England and some in Northern Ireland.
Retailers ‘unlikely’ to boost sales post lockdown – should focus on long-term relationships
Retailers are eager to make up for months of lost sales, but the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned brands that the ease in lockdown restrictions is unlikely to provide any immediate boost for the sector. London’s West End/Oxford Street shopping district is expecting about 80% fewer visitors today than before the lockdown.
Instead, retailers should focus on building customer confidence to visit stores by demonstrating their commitment to social distancing initiatives and customer experience.
Speaking on a potential retail resurgence when stores reopen, retail expert and TV personality, Mary Portas, said “I think there will be less retail…but interestingly, we will probably get better retail.”
How some retailers are eliminating queues altogether
During the lockdown, many essential retailers asked customers to line up outside stores to reduce the amount of people inside – and the approach only worked because the vast majority of retailers had shut up shop. But as non-essential stores reopen, the streets could become flooded with customers queuing to enter stores, completing contradicting the social distancing efforts we’ve been fighting so hard to keep in place.
To keep their stores open, restore customer confidence to visit stores and keep the economy in motion, a number of prominent retailers, such as Asda and O2, have chosen to implement virtual queue management software to stop consumers from having to wait outside stores.
Virtual queuing software enables customers wanting to visit a store to join a virtual queue via a host with a tablet or by scanning a QR code to check-in from their mobile phones. Once added to the virtual queue, customers receive text messages confirming their queue position and wait time, and they can access a weblink to view their position in the queue which updates in real-time while they wait. This enables customers to wait in the neighbouring area or in their cars while receiving text messages and onscreen updates as their turn draws near.
A number of other retailers are also implementing appointment booking software that enables retailers to manage their store capacity in line with social distancing regulations by enabling customers to book times to visit their stores from a retailer’s website or via a host with a tablet. Customers will receive SMS and email notifications confirming and reminding them of their appointment. This enables customers to minimise their time in store by turning up only when their allocated time-slot or one-to-one appointment is due, further reducing crowding in stores and on the streets.
In-store social distancing and hygiene measures retailers are implementing
The government has made it mandatory for retailers to implement a number of initiatives, such as plastic screens at the checkout counters, and floor markings that encourage shoppers to stand two metres apart.
However, many retailers are rolling out additional measures to put customers’ minds at ease, such as quarantining items after they’ve been touched or closing fitting rooms altogether, introducing ultraviolet boxes that decontaminate items in minutes, decontaminating shopping baskets after each use and using technology that allows customers to virtually try on make-up.
We’re very pleased to see stores reopen across England, and wish retailers all the best in implementing their Covid-19 social distancing initiatives.