Originally published in RetailCustomerExperience

Let’s face it: 2020 is shaping up to be one of the worst years on record for brick-and-mortar retailers. Physical stores have been losing ground to online sellers for years, shopping malls have been in decline for more than a decade, and the COVID pandemic has created lockdowns and social distancing rules that are making it difficult to leave home to shop.

And as if things weren’t bad enough, most of the United States is entering the time of year when it’s too cold to wait outside comfortably to go into a shop.

In this environment, how can retail stores possibly compete and survive? The answer may lie in technology.

As we’ve seen for most of this year, people are willing to queue up outside of grocery stores, hardware stores, and big-box shops to buy the items they want. That was fine in September and October, but it’s not a reasonable option in Michigan or North Dakota in the middle of January, when temperatures regularly dip below zero. Mix in the pandemic-driven restrictions that are currently in place in many jurisdictions, and it’s impossible to ask people to line up inside an enclosed area. How is it possible for a store to keep its doors open when people can’t wait inside or outside?

With many states and cities calling for reduced capacities inside public spaces, line management software provides stores the ability to track the flow of customers.

Stores can use apps that let them know exactly how many people are inside and how many are waiting in line. This helps create a much more accurate count of how many customers are currently shopping. As one person leaves the shop, the app can automatically notify the next person in line so that they can enter the store. This can help ensure that stores are operating at a legal capacity while also keeping shoppers moving in and out of the store as quickly as possible.

But retailers should go even further by allowing people to get in line virtually, even before they leave their home. If you really think about it, it doesn’t matter if a person is standing out in front of your store or in his or her living room — as long as you enforce a first-come-first-serve approach to admission.

Thanks to mobile technologies, any retailer can implement a system that informs customers when they can enter the store. By automating these processes, retailers can help minimize wait times for customers and deliver a more positive shopping experience. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than waiting in line to buy a few necessities. Combine that with dropping temperatures and COVID-related health concerns, and using technology to streamline the flow of in-store foot traffic just makes sense.

Retailers are at a critical junction in the evolution of the customer experience. The move toward online shopping has been overtaking the industry for the past decade, and now with COVID-19, that shift among consumers has only grown. In order for brick-and-mortar stores to adapt, they must use technology to handle the current challenges of physical distancing and reduced capacities. And in the middle of the winter in a bleak year for retail, every advantage helps.