Nearly every industry has been impacted by the pandemic. However, with one year under our belts, we have an opportunity to reflect on what changes might have been for the best. It’s no surprise that with state-mandated shutdowns, social distancing and general consumer caution, e-commerce boomed during the pandemic. Online sales increased 32 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The way retailers adapted to new operations also created a shift. Boutiques like Warby Parker began offering one-on-one shopping experiences and styling sessions to reduce store capacity and limit contact points. For Warby Parker stores operating by appointment only, consumers scheduled their one-on-one shopping sessions online. They simply visited Warby Parker's website, located their local store, accessed all available openings, and booked one that worked. And thus, the in-person and online shopping experiences converged in a unique way.
Of course, many other companies embraced online appointments to address the challenge. In today’s digital environment, smart retailers know that it has never been about “pushing products.” Sustainable retail relies on superior customer experience. Consumers crave delightful shopping experiences, which currently don't include crowded showrooms or standing in a line outside the storefront. Online appointments enable retailers to better engage their consumers through convenience, while ensuring the safety that our post-pandemic world demands.
Retail scheduling software empowers shoppers to simply book their appointments online from the comfort of wherever, on phones, tablets or computers — anytime they like. Online scheduling saves time for retailers, grows your promotion of available appointments, essentially keeping you open for business when your store is closed. These solutions also provide critical customer-facing tech like automated appointment reminders and confirmations as well as social media integration. These capabilities extend the impact retailers can have to “own the customer experience end to end.” From the moment consumers see an Instagram post that inspires them to visit your site and book an appointment to the automated confirmations and reminders the day before they come in, these client contact points are critical to driving customer loyalty, which is central to building a sustainable retail operation.
Retail stores that don't offer online scheduling will definitely face more obstacles when reopening and acclimating to the post-pandemic world. For those that are still unconvinced, here are three ways online scheduling will increase the efficiency of your business:
- Effectively schedule employees. By implementing a self-serve scheduling process for the customer service or sales department, retailers gain visibility into when their customers plan to arrive and what they need help with. Armed with these data, retailers can right-size staff at the appropriate times.
- Personalize your service. Online appointments offer an opportunity for retailers to inquire about the nature of the upcoming visit. This information can help staff prepare to best serve consumers' needs — now that’s personalized service. Having the appropriate product literature or samples, on hand, maybe preparing estimates to accelerate the sales cycle, or researching likely questions, this level of attention and effort go a long way in making customers feel valued. They also help shorten the sales cycle and reduce the time customers spend in-store, freeing up more appointment space while showing respect for customers’ valuable time.
- Get a clearer picture. With online scheduling software, retailers can access a wealth of data on the state of the business. Easily run reports for date ranges and individual staff, or for the popularity and sales cycle associated with every SKU. Who is selling what? How often? Are there patterns in traffic that you should be capitalizing on, but are missing out?
Many consumers will embrace any return to normalcy and immediately resume their in-person shopping. Many others will adopt more cautious routes, with new preferences and revised priorities. Appointment-based shopping may have begun as a response to the pandemic, but its convenience, simplicity and potential for personalization should make it a focus for savvy sellers. Not only does online scheduling bring the modernity of digital experiences to the familiarity of in-person ones, but it helps build brand awareness every step of the way. It would be a mistake to consider this “just another commerce trend”; this approach to shopping has been cemented as a long-term pattern for many. Retailers that haven’t already should add this enhancement to their customer service arsenal. Bring more efficiency to your retail operation and more flexibility to the many ways you embrace your customers.
Nate Allan is the director of enterprise sales at DaySmart, a company that specializes in the design, development and support of simple, but powerful, scheduling and resource management software solutions.
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