NHS Test and Trace data: supermarkets to impose greater social distancing with virtual queues and occupancy tracking

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

New NHS Test and Trace data ignites fresh controversy around the safety of consumers when visiting supermarket stores after a strong connection is made between those visiting supermarkets and testing positive for coronavirus. 

This is perhaps unsurprising, given that supermarkets are the UK’s most commonly visited store type. However, many major chains are rolling out virtual queuing systems to help increase social distancing measures in stores as they head into peak shopping season. 

New data collated by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that supermarkets are the most common places people visit in the days leading up to testing positive for coronavirus on the NHS Test and Trace app.

Analysing data from 128,808 people who tested positive between 9 November and 15 November, PHE uncovered that supermarkets were the most prominent locations people with the virus had been prior to testing positive.

While this does not prove where exactly people were contracting coronavirus, a number of supermarket retailers (Tesco, Asda, M&S and Waitrose) are investing in new SaaS technology to help increase social distancing measures in stores. 

Waitrose, Asda and M&S use retail software provider Qudini’s virtual queuing system to enable customers to join virtual queues outside of stores. This is achieved by enabling customers to join a virtual queue by SMS or QR code and receive real-time updates when it is their turn to return to the store. 

Asda’s virtual queuing platform allows customers to join via SMS and QR code.

These same brands are also using Qudini’s occupancy tracking tool to track store occupancy against capacity.

Qudini’s occupancy tracking tool gives retailers access to real-time data about their occupancy levels.

M&S and Waitrose customers have also been given the option to pre-book their shopping times in advance using Qudini’s appointment booking software. John Lewis PLC, the group that own, is currently in the process of implementing virtual queues outside its John Lewis stores and within specific departments when stores reopen. 

Tesco allows its customers to collect online orders by checking in for click and collect from their phones, enabling store staff to prepare their orders and easily inform them when their orders are ready to collect.

On 25 September, 2020, Qudini ran a survey to 2,000 consumers throughout the United Kingdom and found that 44% are visiting grocery stores less as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak, while 46% are visiting grocery stores the same and only 10% are visiting grocery stores more. 

The top concerns amongst consumers when visiting stores are: getting too close to other people (54%), people not wearing masks (52%), touching products and surfaces others had touched (43%), and having to wait in queues (36%). 

When it comes to waiting in queues, consumers’ top concerns are contracting Covid-19 (40%), weather conditions (36%), not knowing how long they have to wait (34%) and being uncomfortable standing for too long (32%). 

The survey also asked consumers if they would find the following solutions useful within grocery stores:

The demand for these specific services is particularly prevalent amongst Millennial and GenZ customers, where an average of 77% state that the solutions would positively impact their interactions with retailers in one or more of the following ways:

To keep their customers safer, many retailers need to step up their game by investing in more digital ways of safely managing store capacity and customers through virtual queuing systems and appointment booking systems. Our recent research shows consumers are visiting grocery stores less than before, are concerned about contracting Covid-19, and are afraid of coming into close contact with others when visiting stores.

Our survey also revealed a strong interest in avoiding trips to grocery stores entirely by collecting orders from outside of stores and through virtual services from grocery stores via booking appointments.

Download the full survey report here

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