Boosting Shopper Safety and Confidence in the Retail Environment
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit retailers across the globe particularly hard. Depending on the jurisdiction, some were forced to close temporarily, while most had to limit the number of customers allowed inside at one time. As vaccination rates increased, restrictions were relaxed, and for many stores, it was business as usual — just with everyone wearing masks. Then, Omicron popped up in the weeks before the all-important holiday season rush.
As we go deeper into 2022, there are still lingering concerns about this new variant and its ability to spread quickly. For retailers, the problem is three-prong: boosting consumer confidence to bring shoppers back in-store, keeping staff and customers safe while they shop, and maintaining a good customer experience. While capacity restrictions may still be a reality, no store wants to limit the amount of time a customer spends shopping, nor do they want to inconvenience shoppers with long lines both outside and inside the store.
From the pandemic's start, stores have experimented with ways to manage in-store traffic and crowds: from floor stickers and tape directions to plexiglass dividers and greeters. As we know, the coronavirus can be spread easier in indoor settings, impacting the shopping experience and store operations dramatically, with enterprises of all sizes forced to adjust. Crowd control, social distancing, health mandates, and line management became the central pieces dictating whether brick-and-mortar retailers could operate in the new normal.
A light at the end of the tunnel during this pandemic has been the prioritization of innovation and technology to solve pain points, with the rapid release of the vaccines as the key example. A new generation of digital tools has been ushered in and adopted by many retailers that were quick to pivot towards the heightened focus on crowd safety, public health protocols, and customer experience in the wake of it all.
Solutions include tracking crowd density in real time, enabling retailers to identify key times of congestion, to manage when shoppers can browse at their leisure or attempt to speed up sales.
Line management tools that were utilized in other sectors, like government and healthcare, have sprung up in the retail sector to manage crowds and minimize wait times and delays, providing a superior customer experience.
Many retailers have pivoted towards using scheduling tools to streamline sales while limiting the number of shoppers in-store, via a pre-set pickup time in-store or curbside. This type of solution can help stores provide a high level of service even if they face a labor crunch due to sickness or headcount reductions.
These tools empower retailers to manage high special events better as well, including high traffic sales promotions, special loyalty events, or special shopping times for seniors or the immunocompromised, which would help mitigate risks for those most vulnerable to the virus.
Using a smartphone, the shopper can book a window when they can enter the store and get greater access to sales associates or service reps. Other benefit of these tools is they will provide a lot of data to the stores. By collecting and analyzing it, managers can better schedule staff to meet times of higher demand, develop user personas to create more pleasing promotions, and refine operations to be more efficient regardless of external factors.
Experts cannot say for sure when we will be able to return to a pre-pandemic normal. While vaccination and booster rates continue to rise, and it appears Omicron has peaked, new variants could emerge at any time to disrupt any progress we've made. For intelligent retailers, there are many ways to modernize the shopping experience to be safer and more convenient for their customers. Not only can this boost sales, but it can increase loyalty, helping stores weather whatever storm might come their way.
Charlie Meyer is the senior vice president of sales and leads the North American sales team at QLess, the premier mobile queuing, line management and customer experience platform.
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