In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed a new addition to our retail technology suite - Virtual Queue. However, we quickly realized that it has applications far beyond the retail space, particularly for municipal services.
Initially, our focus has been on finding ways to help stores function more efficiently and offer a safer environment for their customers. Although our existing customers are mostly fashion retailers, the most urgent need has been to find solutions for grocery stores and pharmacies, so that they can keep the supply of essential food and medicine flowing with as little disruption as possible during the widespread lockdowns.
But once things begin to return to normal, experts advise that some form of distancing will still be necessary for some time. The crowds and queues we’ve always taken for granted won’t be acceptable. We can expect many everyday procedures to change, and technology can play a big part in making that easier.
What is Virtual Queue?
Virtual Queue allows stores or other locations to control the number of people within the building and reduce the number of people waiting in line using a virtual queuing system. Customers add themselves to the queue using their mobile phone, and can either schedule a time or take the next available slot. They are informed via SMS or push notification of the expected wait time and can then wait safely in their car or at home instead of standing outside in proximity to other people. They receive a second message when it is their turn to enter the location. Optionally, owners can set a time limit for customers in order to keep the line moving, and Virtual Queue will notify them when their time is up and they need to leave.
Staff also have access to Virtual Queue via phone or tablet. They can check people in and out, monitor the number of people in the building, and ensure that the virtual line keeps moving. All Grid data is easily viewed in a dashboard which allows owners to track and analyze customer behaviour.
Built on MS Azure, MS Teams and the Ombori Grid platform, Virtual Queue is enterprise ready and can be deployed in a matter of days. It is a fully cloud-based solution which requires no existing infrastructure or hardware. It can be used either as a stand-alone solution or integrated with other Grid components to offer more options. For example, Virtual Queue can be integrated with digital signage that displays the current queue position. In a store environment, it can send coupons or other information to customers in store or in the queue, enable them to self check-out, or allow them to make a purchase online for either delivery or pickup.
Virtual Queue for Cities
Although Virtual Queue was initially designed for the retail environment, it can also be used in many other ways to help cities manage a wide range of public services. Consider the following use cases.
In a typical city hall or other municipal building, there are numerous areas where people have to wait in line for face to face services, such as:
- Utility payments
- Building permits
- Tax payments
- Police stations and courthouses
- Train and bus stations
Public parks and other leisure services provide essential spaces for recreation and exercise. However, it is important to limit the number of people using these at any one time.
- Dog walking areas
- Booking tennis courts, boat rentals, swimming pools, or other sports facilities
- Community centres
- Museums and libraries
- Cafes and food service areas
- Public beaches
- Hiking trails
Virtual Queue could also be used in much more informal settings, such as monitoring Craigslist Swap Spots, so that both participants can be informed when the other has arrived.
It is clear that we are only just beginning to see the potential for queue management systems. Over the next few months, we will continue to look for new use cases and more ways in which Ombori can help people around the world stay safe.