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If the last two years have taught retailers anything, it might be that workforce trends can be just as unpredictable as consumer trends. The industry has always faced challenges in hiring and retaining talent, but the current labor shortage is nearly unprecedented.
Workforce struggles paired with customers who are generally more finicky and impatient are forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to rethink their strategies. Keeping employees happy has become almost as important as keeping customers happy — and the way people feel at work matters just as much as the wages you’re paying and the value you’re providing.
Virtual queuing offers a way to improve the experience for workers and consumers alike. Changing the ways customers wait for service may seem like a minor adjustment, but the potential to increase efficiency, staff morale and, perhaps most importantly, sales is significant. In 2022, this potential can’t be overlooked.
A Variety of Use Cases
Virtual queuing is based on a simple idea: instead of standing in a physical line, customers check into a queue on their smartphones, then are notified when their turn comes up. Customers are free to do whatever they want — including shopping other parts of the store — while they “wait.”
The wait itself becomes productive in that customers can ask questions and provide additional information to staff so that when they reach the front of the virtual queue, employees are better prepared to deliver outstanding service. Customers also can receive updates on estimated wait times and can even be sent virtual offers — e.g., digital coupons or news of current sales.
Virtual queuing may not make sense for large retailers’ checkout lines, but big stores can use the technology for other services and departments, such as customer service, pharmacy, electronics counter, automotive, and so on.
Smaller retailers can use virtual queuing for checkout and for service. Boutique stores with limited staff might not be able to serve customers in a timely manner, but with a virtual queue, those customers know that they aren’t being ignored.
Benefits of a Virtual Queue
At first glance, virtual queuing appears to be customer-centric technology. Although consumers do appreciate and enjoy the freedom afforded by a virtual queue, its benefits extend much further — to employees and the retail operation. Some overall benefits include:
- Improved efficiency: A virtual queue often can shave a few minutes off a customer’s wait time. Employees aren’t distracted by managing a physical queue (and are less likely to be barked at by surly customers), and they’re primed to prioritize customers’ needs because they already know, via the queue’s digital interactions, what those needs are.
- A better customer journey: Even if no time is saved, customers liberated from a physical queue or waiting area feel less stressed and more empowered. That makes them want to treat employees better, who then want to treat customers better — and a better experience is enjoyed by all.
- More sales: Untethering customers from waiting in line encourages them to spend more time shopping. If they’re happier, they might want to buy more and become repeat customers. And the offers sent to their phones as they wait encourage that extra shopping and give them value just for waiting in a virtual queue.
Virtual queues also allow retailers to do more with less — in this case, fewer employees in a tight labor market. In an era when talent is at a premium, that’s vital to keeping your employees happy and maintaining your bottom line.
Steve Covate is vice president of sales at Qtrac by Lavi Industries, a cloud-based virtual queuing and appointment scheduling platform.
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