Queue (Que) Lines in a Post-Pandemic Retail Environment

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail industry has experienced a shift. Due to health concerns, queue lines have had to accommodate customer concerns about safety. As we transition to a post-pandemic environment, the question is, “What will queue lines look like, and how has the pandemic changed their face forever?”

What is a Queue Line?

The most traditional definition of “queue” is a standing line of people waiting to be served in a restaurant or retail shop. Commonly misspelled as que, the term queue applies to a growing sphere of situations across various sectors. However, as technology has changed the structure of the retail industry, queue lines have expanded to include the following:

  • Structured queues, where people wait in a physical line or use a ticket system
  • Unstructured queues, where people form a line with little direction or guidance

Mobile and virtual queues, where people check-in online before visiting a store or scheduling a time to pick up items.

 

How Has the Pandemic Impacted Queue (Que) Lines?

Excessive waiting lines have been an issue for sellers since modern retail came into existence, and queue line management systems, such as those available via Ombori, have redefined the way customers experience queue lines today.

However, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, new concerns about public safety have emerged. Retailers have had to introduce new policies to ensure social distancing protocols – such as maintaining six feet between customers and limiting capacity within stores – while maintaining a positive cash flow for their operations. To adapt, retailers have introduced new solutions that rely on innovative technology.

Stores such as Wegmans have installed live camera feeds to enable shoppers to view lines prior to visiting, while other stores such as Target allow customers to schedule a time to visit, thus guaranteeing entrance while supporting limited capacity restrictions. Restaurants, which depend on customer turnover, have implemented time limits for guests. 

In addition, many stores have turned to digital queue management solutions, such as pre-ordering options and checkout management, to reduce customer-employee interaction. Ombori queue line management systems have aided in the transition, helping companies adapt to the unprecedented shift caused by COVID-19 while ensuring ongoing customer service and satisfaction.

Why is Managing Queue Lines Important?

Ombori queue line systems help retailers reduce wait times aid in their ability to meet business goals. 

  • They minimize the time customers have to spend waiting in line to enter the premises.
  • They offer customers transparency on waiting times.
  • They optimize staff usage.
  • They reduce stress on staff.
  • They reduce missed appointments.
  • They smooth out demand peaks and troughs.

Now, the demand on retailers to adapt COVID-19-friendly queuing systems is more important than ever. Prior to the pandemic, customers often avoided stores if they perceived long wait times. With today’s fear and uncertainty of in-store shopping and personal safety, demand has increased. To ensure ongoing customer satisfaction and retention, companies must be sensitive to consumer needs, even as we enter a post-pandemic environment.

What Will Queue Lines Look Like in a Post-Pandemic Retail Environment?

Considering the changes we have witnessed during the past year and our desire for consumer shopping to return to normal, retailers will have to rely on specific queue management systems to re-engage their customers.

Integration with e-Commerce Infrastructure

Previously, digital signage was used primarily to attract customers – eye-engaging signs were placed at store entrances to entice passersby. As technology advanced, digital signage became a way to improve in-store shopping. It is now a resource for purchasing – customers can pay at a sign using their mobile app instead of waiting in a traditional queue. They can visit the store to view products yet use e-commerce to expedite checkout.

Drive-Through Pickup

In today’s culture, consumers expect to spend less physical time at retailers. Because they view time as a limited commodity, customers appreciate the shift in how retailers operate. What was once unimaginable – picking up inventory the same day without ever leaving the car – has now become commonplace, and this trend is likely to continue after the pandemic, as retailers try to accommodate the increasingly busy lifestyles of their customers.

Zero-Touch Systems

COVID-19 has heightened our awareness of health and safety. Reports show how germs and viruses spread, and the general public is becoming more educated on safety practices that will protect the health of their families. This knowledge will remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds as they continue to shop in-store. 

According to new research from Shekel Scales, a weighing solutions firm, more than 70% of shoppers are now using robust touchless self-checkout options or shopping at frictionless micro-markets, while nearly 29% are shopping online. Exactly half of consumers are aware of touchless self-checkout options, where items are automatically scanned and recognized without the need to touch a pad or screen to enter information, and self-checkout options remain popular, with nearly 75% of shoppers using them to pay for groceries regularly. Respondents in the study were between the ages of 18 and 60.

As a result, retailers are likely to continue using zero-touch systems to accommodate this shifting mindset. Self-checkout will become more common, and customers will increasingly opt for touchless payment systems such as Apple Pay.

Pre-Booking Appointments

Allotting time for shopping to reduce the number of customers in a store at any one point may continue as the post-pandemic environment evolves. Individuals have experienced shorter queue lines, expediting and improving their overall experience. These systems can be used in numerous settings, including malls and museums. 

Jason Bettinger, senior director and head of retail and financial services (Americas) for HERE, explained: “A customer could have an app that delivers them a number [that] is timed, and they are allowed to go and shop for a certain period of time.”

Retailers who need to pay more attention to customers (e.g., those who require consultations) are likely to rely on pre-booked appointments. This process has maximized prospective sales for retailers, allowing them to schedule customer interactions, recover sales lost due to long wait times, and improve client satisfaction by ensuring prompt attention upon arrival. 

Craig Bolton, executive director of The Watches of Switzerland Group, reported that his company started setting up appointments as soon as they reopened after temporary pandemic closures. They were able to schedule 13,000 one-on-one virtual and in-store appointments in the last two weeks of July alone.

Retailers Post-COVID

In summary, Daniel Ni, retailer and consumer goods analyst, said it best: “The post-pandemic retail sector looks different, and it’s too early to judge which changes will last and which will not.” “What’s certain,” he continued, “is that overall, winners came out stronger, and the weaker will be driven out of business.” He concluded, “That sounds bad for individual shops or brands, but not necessarily so for the industry as a whole. Such difficult times may test what really works and result in a new business model for the industry.”