As the prospect of a post-COVID world begins to emerge, the reality is that we are far from seeing life return to pre-pandemic days. In fact, many predict that COVID has, in actuality, changed the way we interact forever.
For example, COVID has increased our awareness of the world around us. The highly contagious virus has shown us just how dangerous viruses can be as stores have been forced to implement innovative technology to help with managing crowds. One such technology, the Ombori Grid Occupancy Control solution, has been helping businesses oversee maximum occupancy during this unpredictable time.
Additionally, COVID has educated us on how to reduce our risk of infection. Now, with this newfound knowledge, experts predict that certain aspects of our lives will be forever altered, including the way we shop in retail spaces.
However, Barbara Kahn, author of The Shopping Revelation, suggests that the changes in the retail sector during COVID have simply been a long time coming. She shares, “Although the pandemic was an abrupt disruption to business as usual, mandating a ‘new normal,’ many changes were long in coming. Analysis [shows] that the changes in shopping behavior observed during critical periods of COVID-19 were actually an acceleration of 5-10 years of behaviors that were already in progress even without the pandemic occurring.”
What Will a Post-COVID Retail Atmosphere Look Like?
Starting in March 2020, most non-essential stores across the country were required to close their doors, and consumers were forced to rely on e-commerce options. By June 2020, nearly 250,000 stores had closed temporarily, with more than 15,000 closings for good by the end of the year. As a result, consumers turned to online shopping to navigate these unprecedented times.
Digital Commerce 360 reported, “Ecommerce was growing fast before COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic pushed even more U.S. consumers online, contributing an additional $105 billion in U.S. online revenue in 2020 and accelerating eCommerce by two years. Online sales hit $791.70 billion in 2020, up 32.4% from $598.02 billion in the prior year, according to Commerce Department figures. That’s the highest annual online sales growth of any year for which data is available.”
Although consumers shifted to online shopping during these times, researchers expect many will be excited to return to in-store shopping, bringing hope to stores that have struggled during the pandemic. Morning Consult finds that “41% of consumers are excited to get back to malls.”
They report, “Despite the accelerated rise of eCommerce amid the pandemic, an option most native to younger generations, millennials, and Gen Z adults are not likely to give up malls entirely once the pandemic is under control. Forty-six percent of millennials and 45 percent of Gen Zers said they look forward to returning to malls, compared to 39 percent of Gen Xers and 36 percent of baby boomers. Thirty percent of all adults said they currently visit malls, including similar shares across generations.”
However, one change is expected: Consumers will no longer be willing to engage in over-populated shopping areas. Instead, retailers in all industries will need to continue implementing new technologies to help with managing crowds.
How Will Businesses Go About Managing Crowds?
COVID-19 has caused customers to rely on both online and in-person shopping experiences, and implementing occupancy control measures in a post-COVID environment will help businesses meet evolving consumer behaviors. Here are the top occupancy control measures we can expect to see moving forward.
- Queue Management Apps
Queue management apps provide a way to eliminate lines. One solution they offer includes the ability to create virtual queues and eliminate close contact between customers. Shoppers enter the virtual queue either by signing in or using a QR code. They are then notified via text or SMS code when it is their turn for service.
Not only do queue management solutions reduce contact between customers, but systems such as Ombori’s Queue Management also help reduce customer wait time, optimize staff usage, streamline sales, and improve the customer experience.
- People Counters
People counting software tracks real-time footfall. By collecting data, companies can manage occupancy, make data-driven decisions, optimize staff planning, and increase revenues – all potential benefits in a post-pandemic world.
BOPIS refers to customers buying items online and then picking them up in the store (“buy online, pick up in-store”). BOPIS allows customers to avoid the hassle of busy stores and long lines while providing same-day product and service availability.
- Omnichannel Commerce
Omnichannel commerce is a multi-channel sales approach that integrates the customer experience across every platform shoppers might touch as part of the sales process. Omnichannel retail reaches customers wherever they are – in the store, on social media, via online marketplaces, etc. Each touchpoint has a consistent message and is personalized to the customer.
Finding The Right Solution
For those seeking a tool that meets their consumer demands, Ombori Grid’s Occupancy Control offers numerous solutions in one platform. Using people counting and a mix of queue ticketing or pre-booked appointments, Occupancy Control helps businesses manage maximum occupancy at their locations. All Occupancy Control installations include the following features:
- GDPR compliant: Data storage and handling is fully compliant with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other data protection legislation.
- Dashboard: The dashboard provides easy visualization of current status and historical trends on the Web and mobile devices. All data is date- and time-stamped.
- Data export: Data can be exported to files or directly to your existing management information system.
- Set occupancy levels: You can determine the permitted occupancy level for each location. You can set levels to vary depending on day, time, or other criteria.
- Occupancy triggers: You can define actions that are automatically triggered when occupancy reaches a certain level.
- Remote health checks: You can continuously monitor the status of all connected devices remotely and perform remedial action as required.
- Multi-entrance support: You can monitor all entrances to your building to maintain an accurate occupancy count.
- Multi-site support: If your business has multiple sites, you can monitor and control all of them centrally.
- Site-specific settings: Each site can have its own configuration, including different occupancy thresholds, triggers, and content.
- Traffic light indicators: Indicators provide a simple way to tell whether a building is open or closed.
- Cloud-based: All data is stored on the cloud, allowing remote access at all times.
- Digital twin: You can create a virtual model of your building’s occupancy.
Relied on by some of the world’s largest retailers, this software offers customers the following benefits:
- It can be combined with other apps and solutions to meet your needs.
- It is customizable to your requirements and branding.
- It works for any scale of business.
- It offers rapid deployment.
- It includes remote management.
- It is easy to maintain.
- It is designed and built with security in mind.
- It uses commonly available hardware.
- It is reliable, secure, and well supported.
Benefits of Occupancy Control Solution in a Post-COVID World
Businesses that implement store occupancy solutions are likely to experience benefits beyond ensuring customer safety. Rui Tian, COO of Ombori Apps AB, summarizes how store occupancy solutions can help with a company’s long-term success.
- Analytics: As businesses continue to collect data via their occupancy control solutions, they can make changes to improve operations and increase the bottom line.
- Regulatory compliance: People-counting systems offer businesses accurate, real-time monitoring, ensuring they comply with occupancy regulations.
- Perceived safety: Customers are reassured that businesses are compliant with occupancy regulations, giving them the comfort of knowing they are healthy and safe.
- Customer/visitor communication: Understanding occupancy allows businesses to be transparent with customers about anticipated wait times, thereby reducing their frustrations.
- Staff management: Retailers can adjust staffing to meet actual demand based on data collected by occupancy control solutions.
- Reduced queues: Data collected can help businesses manage operations and reduce wait times.
In a post-pandemic world, managing crowds may become an integral part of every retail business model. After 18 months of online shopping, customers are no longer willing to tolerate long lines and crowded shop floors, continuing a trend that started well before the emergence of COVID-19. Thus, retailers must now find solutions for ensuring a safe and healthy distance between shoppers. Technology for managing crowds provides retail businesses with many benefits and can ultimately contribute to a healthier bottom line.