Boosting Shopper Safety and Confidence in the Retail Environment
Retail has transformed dramatically in the past few years for various reasons. For starters, brick-and-mortar stores now have competition. They are not alone as the sole driver of the shopping experience. They are competing in a crowded marketplace with e-commerce and social commerce. Many brick-and-mortar retailers are losing. Another significant change was the pandemic. This drove people even further into their online spending habits.
Retail stores need to find a way to regain their hold on consumers and reintegrate into the customer journey or risk falling into obscurity. According to Salesforce, 87% of shoppers now begin their shopping search on digital channels. For retailers unwilling to adapt, this can be a death sentence. However, for those willing to make changes, there are still a lot of opportunities to appeal to everyone, from online shoppers to conventional buyers.
Retail businesses can still appeal to more potential customers and become pivotal parts of the shopping experience by innovating to boost shopper safety and increase consumer confidence. The past several years have made some people less willing to venture out of their homes, and many customers wouldn’t feel comfortable being in a crowded retail environment. But there are tools out there that can change this.
Utilizing modern technology for an integrated retail experience is a way to stay ahead of the online shopping revolution. One technology that is becoming a pivotal part of the retail experience is QLess and the rise of the virtual queue. The combination of waiting line management and appointment scheduling software offers retailers a bold new way to improve the customer experience.
In a new era of shopping, where so much is technology driven, QLess and the waiting line management system can spur incredible growth. Let’s look at how this useful platform can help businesses boost shopper safety and build confidence in the retail environment.
Building a Technology-Oriented Experience
The shopping experience was largely the same for decades, but the rise of the online retailer has changed what people want. People expect easy access and convenience when shopping, and if an in-person retailer can’t provide that, they’ll look elsewhere. If you want to build a customer base that will allow you to sustain and grow your business, you have to consider the importance of technology in the customer experience.
Physical retail stores can still have a role to play in an increasingly digital marketplace if they manage to reconfigure their services to be more technology-based. According to McKinsey and Company, retailers can change their offerings in several key ways by leaning into technology. Reimagining their physical space and becoming an omnichannel retailer will help inspire customer loyalty. One of the key ways they can do this is by utilizing QLess.
QLess’ platform has several key features that make it a technology worth implementing for brick-and-mortar retail stores. One of the most important ones is the use of virtual queues. Virtual queues allow consumers to check into line from wherever they are and see estimated wait times. This increases convenience for customers and reduces in-store suggestions. Staff can organize customers into different lines according to their needs, and the bi-directional communication features allow for simplified connections between staff and customers.
This will lead to an experience that is much more technology-driven and convenient. Customers can check into the line from their mobile device, wait from a distance, and arrive at the store when it is their turn to be checked in. This has limitless applications for retail businesses. They can set up virtual lines for returns, appointments, and much more. It will provide customers with an experience that aligns with their technology preferences.
Competing with E-Commerce
Not only are retail stores competing amongst themselves for consumers’ attention, but they are also competing with a whole different method of shopping. E-commerce is a rapidly growing industry that is increasingly earning consumers’ confidence. As people only become more and more technology-oriented, retail will need to find a way to stand apart from e-commerce.
According to Digital Commerce 360, e-commerce sales grew 14.2% in the United States in 2021, reaching over $870.78 billion in revenue. E-commerce has several advantages over brick-and-mortar retailers. There are no lineups, no need for social distancing, and you don’t have to get off your couch. However, there are still many things that in-person retailers can offer that will set them apart from e-commerce.
Focusing on experiential shopping will give retailers a competitive edge over e-commerce. There is still an intrinsic value to being in a store, seeing a product firsthand, and trying it on. E-commerce can’t compete with this; it offers such unparalleled convenience that customers are willing to sacrifice the in-store experience. If retailers can focus on making their business more convenient for their customers, they can regain customer trust.
Making it easier for customers to schedule appointments and avoid lines will help brick-and-mortar retailers cut into e-commerce sales. Appointment scheduling software like QLess allows customers to schedule appointments whenever they want, without the need for phone calls or website visits. With the QLess queuing system, they can wait in line for their appointments or purchases from their homes.
Regaining consumer confidence will take some time, especially when concerns over the pandemic are still common. But providing as convenient as possible an experience will help retailers compete against e-commerce for the finite amount of consumer interest.
Combatting the Pandemic-Induced Shopper Concerns
While the rise of e-commerce and the shift towards digitalization have cut into retail’s in-person sales, the biggest reason for the need to regain consumers’ confidence is the fallout from the pandemic. COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that is airborne and that has made people extremely uncomfortable doing some of the in-person tasks they would’ve done without a second thought before. While cases have slowed down around the world, buyers are still tentative.
Retail sales dropped dramatically in the early months of the pandemic. According to a report from Deloitte, retail sales dropped 20% from February to April 2020, with clothing and accessory stores dropping 89% and department stores dropping 45%. Businesses were shuttered, and millions of workers were furloughed or laid off.
This was a drastic change spurred by massive lockdowns and consumer fears. However, it also was the exacerbation of long-term trends. Customers crave convenience, and retailers had to do what they could to provide convenient offerings even amid a digital revolution and a pandemic. Many chose to offer services like Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store, or BOPIS. But despite this, concerns still ran rampant.
Even now, many consumers are hesitant to return to normal. The pandemic has exacerbated intense feelings of anxiety in the general population. According to a report by the Center for Disease Control, in 2019, 8.1% of adults aged 18 and over in the United States had anxiety disorder symptoms. In March 2022, that number was at 27.3%.
Whether it is due to concerns about the pandemic or mental health issues, many are simply more comfortable ordering clothes and products from home than visiting a store in person. This is a massive obstacle to the retail industry that they will have to overcome, and it won’t be easy. Across the world, the pandemic has completely altered the behaviors and preferences of consumers, and retailers must adjust.
A Socially Distanced Store
The solution to the increasing desire of customers to avoid crowds is accommodating them. While this doesn’t hold true for everyone, many people feel stressed out by large crowds. Many people will walk into a store, see there is a long line and that it is filled with people, and walk out. Losing out on prospective customers hurts, especially in a retail environment like the current one. Creating a socially distanced store can help avoid this.
For many retailers, the concept of a socially distanced store is fluid. Many will have arrows leading customers up and down aisles or markers in lines six feet apart. Others will rely more on curbside pickup or only let in a certain number of customers at a time. The difference is dependent on the stores. But with QLess, stores can implement a whole different kind of socially distanced retail experience.
With the queue management system for retail, the need for in-person lines is drastically reduced. Lines are a significant source of congestion in stores ranging from department stores to specialized shops. Having queue management software can give businesses more freedom to eliminate inconvenient physical lines. This will reduce concerns and risks of COVID spread, but it will also improve the customer experience.
QLess empowers retail stores to have virtual queues that customers can check into from their phones. They can check into different queues for returns, pickups, or purchases. They can monitor wait times, communicate with staff, and ensure they will receive service, all without standing in the store. Staff can mix and manage the lines with physical lineups and arrange lineups based on employees and more.
These features are deeply customizable and offer stores the ability to drastically reduce congestion and in-person interaction. Part of retail is the face-to-face experience, and retailers can still integrate that and provide a high level of customer service. But they can now also offer a more socially distanced environment that suits the current COVID-conscious consumer’s needs.
Align with Consumers’ Technology Preferences
The future of retail lies in technology. E-commerce isn’t likely to stop its stratospheric growth, but regardless of e-commerce, retailers have to find a way to implement technology into their store experience. This is because the modern consumer relies upon technology and wants it integrated into just about everything they do.
Tech plays a major role in our decision-making processes. Technology is integrated with nearly everything we do. Most consumers like it that way. Even the in-store shopping experience will have a focus on technology. According to Think With Google, 82% of consumers consult their phones while in a store deciding what product to buy.
That is because the average consumer that companies are targeting spends so much time using technology. 85% of Americans now own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. The average American spends seven hours and four minutes looking at a screen every day, according to Comparitech. Consumers are inundated with technology every day, altering what they want from businesses.
To regain consumer confidence that has been lost, retailers need to align with consumers’ technology preferences. QLess fits in perfectly with the established habits of the modern consumer. The QLess wait in line app is smartphone accessible and allows customers to schedule appointments and check in and out of lineups. They can communicate with staff, coordinate their retail experience, and skip a physical wait, all from their phone.
Appeal to Younger Demographics
While appealing to older demographics is still important for businesses, the cohort most dependent on technology is the younger generations like millennials and Gen Z. Gen Z and millennials make up over 139 million people in the United States, according to Statista, and they are a vital group for businesses to reach. If brick-and-mortar retailers are to thrive long-term, they must establish a way to give these young consumers confidence in the retail environment.
Gen Z and millennials are digital natives, meaning they were raised on a steady diet of the internet, smartphones, and laptops. Gen Z especially stands out as an incredibly technology-oriented generation. According to Norton, this generation spends 50 minutes more on their smartphone every day than other generations, and 40% consider public Wi-Fi more important than bathrooms.
To appeal to these demographics, businesses will have to embrace digital transformation. A report from HubSpot found that only 38% of Gen Z prefers in-store shopping to online shopping. This is a huge obstacle to overcome, as this age group will soon mature into one of the economy’s biggest spenders. Providing a more technology-integrated experience that cuts through some inconveniences of in-person shopping will bring younger consumers back on board.
Customer journey management software like QLess gives retailers a virtual tool to offer younger demographics that will make them stand out. Simplified line management and appointment scheduling will reduce two significant retail inconveniences and restore faith in the retail environment.
Analytics for a Better Customer Journey
Customers go in-person shopping because they want to browse, look around, try things out, and have an experience. What stops them from committing to this is how easy online shopping is. They sacrifice the more experiential brick-and-mortar store for the quicker one-click checkouts and no line. By streamlining the difficult parts of in-store shopping, you can bring customers back in-store.
Streamlining the retail experience is a pathway towards offering a better one. That requires a high level of understanding of how your operation is performing in several areas. Knowing where your retail operation is strong and where it may be falling short will help you refine the customer journey. Business intelligence is a big part of this.
Business intelligence is a strategy driven by data and analytics that uses numerical insights into an operation to refine performance. Getting high-quality and reliable data into your retail business will allow you to offer better customer experiences, and QLess can provide you with this.
QLess has business intelligence features that allow retailers to explore what is working and what isn’t about their customer journey process. With the QLess data, you can see everything from the median wait time, median transaction time, forecasted waiting time, appointment no-shows, how many customers are currently in-line, and much more. You can also break your data into different segments to understand how certain kinds of lines are performing, employee impact, and how lines move at different times of the day.
Having this data at your disposal will allow you to reconfigure aspects of your operation coming up short. If you see certain hours of the day your business is overwhelmed and has extensive wait times, you can make the necessary tweaks.
With easy-to-understand graphs and charts and filters for data segmentation, the QLess business intelligence features allow retailers to make impact changes for a better customer journey.
Redefine the Customer Experience
Re-establishing the retail environment as a pivotal part of the customer journey is challenging. Right now, there are a lot of customers that don’t see spending time in a shop as a necessity. Many others are uncomfortable with the idea of stepping into a physical store. Overcoming that will require a long wait until COVID concerns die down or an overhaul of the retail experience to be as consumer-friendly and exciting as possible. Most retailers should prefer the latter.
Using technology to redefine the customer experience will allow retailers to make themselves essential again. There are aspects of in-store shopping that e-commerce can’t replicate, and if stores can make the customer experience exciting and fun, they can get customers to overcome their reliance on online shopping or tentativeness to be in-person.
Focusing on safety while also implementing exciting new in-store, technology-driven features will allow businesses to appease a wide base of buyers. Using stores as a multi-channel fulfillment center and customer-driven shopping experience will allow businesses to get the best of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar.
Having a brick-and-mortar store helps businesses not just drive in-person shopping but also e-commerce. According to the previously mentioned McKinsey report, opening a new location drives traffic to a retailer’s website by an increase of 37%. Brick-and-mortar shops aren’t necessarily competing with their e-commerce branches; they are competing with consumers’ online shopping habits in general. Having a store that complements the e-commerce branch can improve the customer experience.
Stores can have areas for BOPIS fulfillment and areas similarly dedicated to complementing online commerce. They can house less inventory in-store and focus primarily on customer service and brand education, two areas lacking in e-commerce. Offering a blended digital-in-store experience intended to accommodate in-person shopping and complement the e-commerce branch can give customers a brand new exciting retail shopping offering.
QLess will go a long way towards making this possible. It can be a virtual management software where customers and staff can organize the shopping experience. Different lines and areas can be virtually separated, customers can schedule different appointments, and a new model of experience-driven retail can be born.
The retail industry is currently facing major changes on the horizon. The move toward online shopping had been happening for many years, but the pandemic exacerbated things. Now, many buyers are unwilling to make consistent in-person shopping trips for safety and convenience reasons. While things have picked up since the pandemic’s peak, it is still evident that retail needs to evolve or risk falling behind.
So how do you make consumers that are hesitant to return to brick-and-mortar stores change their habits? It may require retailers to undergo significant changes themselves. Focusing on providing a high-quality customer experience and making stores as safe and de-congested as possible could go a long way toward convincing consumers that the best place to make their purchases is at stores themselves.
QLess is a technology solution that offers retailers the chance to implement software capable of expediting a digital transformation that improves safety and convenience. With the QLess virtual queue management features, retailers can drastically reduce the need for in-person lines. Customers can check into lines from wherever they are, monitor wait times, and enter the store when it is their turn to be served.
This will help stores become less crowded and accommodate people concerned about the pandemic. It will also remove the exasperating feeling of being stuck in line. QLess also offers appointment scheduling and business intelligence features to allow for a more streamlined and accessible retail operation.
Convincing consumers to change their spending habits and re-focus their shopping to retail stores will require technological innovation and a material change in the customer experience. Right now, people value safety and convenience above all else. QLess helps make in-person retailers a safer, less crowded space and removes the need for in-person waits. It can help make any brick-and-mortar store a more convenient, accessible, and socially distanced space that accommodates consumer preferences.