Originally published in Auto Rental News

It’s hard to wrap your mind around how much has changed since March 2020, when the first COVID-19 lockdowns started in the United States. At the time, nobody expected that stay-at-home and physical distancing orders would last as long as they did, nor did they expect it was the beginning of a new era in how we work and live.

But here we are, with the past year causing unprecedented changes to our lifestyles and taking an incredible toll on our economy.

Enterprises in every industry have been working to come up with touchless solutions to meet new social distancing demands. Few industries were harder hit than the auto rental industry, which dove 27.4% in the U.S. in 2020. Hertz’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy made the 102-year-old company a symbol for the rampant economic destruction caused by the pandemic.

It’s clear that the car rental industry, like many things, will be forever altered by the impacts of 2020. For car rental operators, here are two big ways you can reinvent your in-store experience to double down on convenience and navigate the transition to life after COVID.

Virtual Queues

One of the first things to consider is how to handle your in-store traffic. Nobody likes standing in line, especially coming out of extended social-distancing protocols. To elevate your in-store experience, it’s time to bring in new technology that makes crowds and long lines a thing of the past.

  • Turn lines into virtual queues. The pandemic had people discovering all sorts of things they could do virtually instead of in person. Standing in line is one of those things. Queue management software lets customers digitally reserve their place in line and stay updated via an app or through text messages.
  • Take advantage of tablets. A self-service station these days can be as simple as a tablet mounted to a stand. Place a few around the store so customers can browse inventory digitally, claim a spot in your virtual queue, or even make self-service purchases.
  • Trust the data. The more technology you integrate into your store, the more customer data you’ll generate. Analyzing and interpreting this data will help you do everything from reducing customer complaints to creating customized incentive programs.

Next-level reservation and line management software won’t just improve the experience for your customers — it will help you optimize your operations as well. For a rental operation, this means maximizing the throughput of customers.

A good line management software will automatically adjust appointments to account for no-shows, so you’re not missing out on transactions. Since no-shows saw an uptick during the pandemic, this can make a big difference for your bottom line.

Scheduling isn’t the only place where your rental agency can see a boost from new technology. The pandemic saw a dramatic decline in the use of cash, which likely had many consumers wondering why the US is generally late to the tap-and-go chip card party. You should be asking the same thing about your Point-of-Sale system.

Upgrading Your POS System

This is a great time to consider upgrading or flat-out replacing your POS system to prepare for the future. Here’s what you should take into account:

  1. Are you mobile? Modern POS systems take advantage of the internet to allow you to manage inventory and perform other tasks from anywhere.
  2. How’s your hardware? Do your employees have to work with an interface that’s hard to learn, or crashes at the most inopportune times? If so, it’s time to make a change.
  3. How many forms of payment can you accept? Customers who can use their preferred payment method are more likely to make a purchase. The more forms of payment you accept, the more sales you can make.
  4. Is your system secure? Your POS system knows everything about your business — and a lot about your customers. Do you trust it to keep that data safe?
  5. Is it flexible? Modern POS systems don’t just let you make sales transactions: they act as the digital brains of your entire operation. This means managing inventory, creating coupon codes or other incentives, and more.
  6. Is it smart? We’ve already mentioned the benefits of customer data. Does your POS provide you with the analytics you need to improve your business?

Bringing new technology into your retail experience can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are lots of options out there to explore, so take the time to find the right product to fit your unique needs. And there’s never been a better time to experiment.

Everyone is searching for the right tools to give themselves an advantage in the post-pandemic economy, and that means everyone is trying new things. It’s time to experiment and find what works for you!