by Shannon Flynn
The holiday season presents some challenges and opportunities to retailers every year. Now, with COVID concerns and falling sales, the coming holidays may be even more challenging. Amid this confusing time, shopping appointments could provide some needed relief.
A few major retailers adopted the shop-by-appointment model early on in the pandemic when restrictions were tighter. Given the increased foot traffic the holidays bring in, it is worth giving it a second look because appointments could help stores make needed sales while maintaining a safe, healthy environment.
Minimizing Crowds & Improving Customer Experiences
Experts predict a 25 percent drop in in-store traffic this holiday season, but given how much shopping spikes, that is still a lot of consumers. Even before the pandemic, holiday shopping typically means long lines and wait times. This could get worse if you can only host a limited number of people in the store at once.
With an appointment, customers will not have to line up since they have a definite time they can enter the store. They can shop freely without a crowd and, as a result, appointments can help maintain safety guidelines and give customers a more comfortable experience.
Appointments may seem strange for retail, but other industries have benefited from them for decades. Restaurants, doctors and tattoo shops all avoid long waits and crowds by using appointments or reservations. It may not be sustainable for retailers in the long term, but it could be ideal for managing 2020 holiday traffic.
How to Make the Most of Shopping Appointments
To make an appointment system work, retailers will need to consider a few things. It is vital to communicate the plan with consumers clearly and early. If people do not know about the appointment system, they could come to the door and turn away, upset at the inconvenience.
Retail appointments will be most effective if they work in conjunction with online channels. For example, customers could use your website to find and select clothes that interest them. You could then have those items ready for their appointment, streamlining the process.
It is also a good idea to allow customers to manage their appointments in your store’s app, if you have one. Apps account for 88 percent of mobile internet usage, showing a clear consumer preference. It is more convenient for customers to schedule or cancel appointments this way and will improve the overall experience.
Other Practices to Adopt
Appointment-based shopping is not the only practice that can help retailers survive the holidays this year. Using monthly rolling forecasts instead of annual budgets can help stay on top of changing financial factors. One study found that 64 percent of surveyed businesses already use these, so it may be a good time to try them.
Even with appointments, retailers will not be able to sustain past in-store traffic numbers. You can make up for this by emphasizing your ecommerce website, which will make sales and decrease in-person crowds. As of May, 52 percent of American consumers reported shopping online more, so you cannot afford to ignore this market.
Hybrid approaches, like ordering products online to pick up in-store, offer the best of both worlds to some customers. Surviving 2020 as a retailer may boil down to your flexibility and variety. The more channels you can offer, the more success you will have in these difficult times.
Retailers Need to Adapt to a Changing World
Some of the changes in the COVID landscape will outlast the virus, and others will not. Amid all these shifts, being able to adapt is the most crucial thing. If retailers hope to outlive the pandemic, they will need to adapt at a moment’s notice.