Why luxury retailers shouldn’t ask their customers to queue during Covid-19

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

Luxury retailers are known for their high-touch and highly personalized customer experience. Asking customers to queue outside of stores not only hinders that experience, it puts their safety at risk. Here’s how a retail queue management system and appointment scheduling system can help.

The rich and famous frequent luxury boutiques for their products, sure, but for many, it’s the service that makes the experience memorable. Customers are treated to a glass of champagne or a shot of espresso while store associates showcase their latest selection of carefully curated goods. This level of first-class service, however, becomes a little less personal (and a little less possible) when social distancing and hygiene measures come into play.

Covid-19 has impacted the spending habits of consumers worldwide, including the rich. According to Boston Consulting Group, global luxury sales could fall anywhere between $85 and $120 billion in 2020 (approx. 29%).

New York’s luxury retail market has been particularly hard hit, with department store retailer, Neiman Marcus, filing for bankruptcy in May, while competitor Nordstrom was dropped by the S&P 500. Tiffany & Co. announced its same-store sales fell 44% in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same time last year, and LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, reported a 17% decline in sales during the same time.

Last week, non-essential retail stores in the UK were given the green light to reopen after over two months of lockdown, and many luxury retailers have reopened their stores to the public. However, many have limited the number of customers allowed inside their stores drastically and are asking walk-ins to queue outside – and while the lines weren’t anywhere near Primark or Ikea level, there was a queue outside almost every luxury retailer.

The line outside a Gucci store in London after Covid-19 lockdown.

Customers wait in a queue outside a Chanel store in London the weekend after stores reopen post lockdown.

Cartier customers wait to enter a store in London.

Pandora customers queue to enter one of its stores in central London post lockdown.

Luxury shoppers are concerned about their safety

Some would argue that having a queue of customers outside your store can create a sense of demand or hype, and in some cases, they would be correct. But at a time where most consumers are still restricting their shopping trips to essential-only, luxury retailers adopting this approach need to ask themselves who will be passing by to see these lines and be persuaded to join in when most consumers are still in lockdown.

We surveyed 2,000 UK consumers to get a better understanding of their shopping patterns during and leading up to Covid-19, and here’s what we discovered:

And remember back to before the lockdown took place, when many wealthy consumers were paying large sums to get tested for Covid-19?

While the retail lockdown has lifted, the vast majority of luxury and high-end fashion customers will still be hesitant about making unnecessary trips to stores unless brands can build customer confidence and help put their minds at ease.

Eliminate the queues with a queuing system and appointment scheduling software

Instead of asking customers to queue outside of store, many retailers are investing in virtual queue management systems that allow customers to join a queue remotely and come back when their turn draws near. Customers can enter a queue using a QR code, via SMS or weblink, or through a host – and they are given a queue position, an estimated wait time and are updated throughout the process with real-time notifications. This helps reduce the risk of customers contracting the virus, limits the number of customers in store, and creates a more pleasant waiting experience.

Many high-end retailers are creating special queues for their VIP customers, as well, which in turn creates a streamlined waiting experience for their most loyal patrons.

Find out how a virtual queuing system could work in your store

Another approach many luxury brands and department stores are adopting is using appointment scheduling software to allow customers to book time-slots to enter their stores, such as Irish department store retailer, Brown Thomas. With booking software, customers can book a specific time to enter your store through your website, app or over the phone. They will receive confirmation and reminder emails and SMS messages to keep them informed and engaged.

This enables store teams to monitor how many customers are in their store at once, and stagger visits throughout the day, as well as create a seamless shopping experience. For VIP customers wanting expert advice or support, many retailers are using the same software to create personalized one-to-one appointments with store associates when they visit.

Find out more about visitor time-slot scheduling

While it might not be time to start serving champagne just yet, you can still provide one-to-one services to your customers by allowing them to book an appointment with an in-store expert, such as a personal stylist or an interior design expert, from your website, app or over the phone.

Take your high-touch customer experience online

While there is a limit to what luxury retailers can offer in-store due to social distancing and hygiene measures, specialised services can still take place online. In fact, research suggests many consumers are open to the idea of online appointments and events during Covid-19.

Allow your customers to book appointments with store associates or experts for fashion and styling advice or one-to-one online product displays (video-streaming apps like Hero are perfect for this). Also consider hosting exclusive online events such as interviews with celebrities or influencers, make-up or styling tutorials or live unveilings of new goods using retail event management software.

Read: 5 online event ideas to trying during Covid-19

While it might be a tricky time for luxury retailers, there’s plenty of opportunity out there to thrive and form a competitive advantage by investing in digital innovation and creating a powerful omni-channel customer experience.


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