Virtual Queues: The Waiting Isn’t the Hardest Part

Throughout the 2010s, brick-and-mortar retailers worked hard to keep up with the evolving consumer landscape. Then COVID-19 arrived and accelerated the rate of change, challenging stores even more to keep up.

With the worst of the pandemic mostly coming to an end, the changes are more pronounced than expected. Before, people came to the store, looked at and selected items, purchased them and left. Today, customers may order online, come to your store to pick up their orders and never step foot inside your store. Consumers increasingly demand auxiliary services and an optimal experience if they do decide to come inside, and a 25-year-old customer’s expectations are different from those of a 65-year-old.

Amid all this change, retailers still must do everything they can to increase sales.

Over the years, virtual queuing has emerged as more than a way to tidy up messy lines. A digital queuing system enhances the customer experience — which will be invaluable in the post-COVID era — and increases customer sales. Customer waits may be inevitable sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they also can’t be profitable.


Maximizing Floor Space and Staffing Resources

Step back from the customer experience and look at queuing in purely operational terms. Traditional physical queues, whether they are well-defined constructs or unorganized chaos, take away valuable real estate from the selling floor. Space that could be used to display inventory is wasted, and though stores might hope for impulse sales while people wait in line, if these waits are too long customers won’t be in the mood to add to their carts. Furthermore, a mass of queued customers interrupts traffic flow, discouraging other customers from getting to the other side.

Virtual queues put this otherwise unprofitable space back into play. They also open paths for customers to more easily move through the store. Both outcomes can increase sales simply by opening up more opportunities for shoppers to shop.

Manpower is another resource that retailers must carefully manage, particularly in the pandemic era. A typical retail employee might be asked to provide customer service expertise all over the store, fulfill online orders, answer phone calls, stock inventory and, yes, manage a physical queue. Virtual queues take that last responsibility off their plates and free them up to deliver better service — and maybe even sell a little. 

The Power of Perception

Virtual queues shave time — often significant time — off customer waits. Employees increase their efficiency and customers are more focused and less annoyed when they reach the front of the line.

However, there will still be days when all hell is breaking loose and people will spend significant time waiting for service. With virtual queues, that’s not as bad for business as it would be with a physical line. Being able to browse the store, buy a cup of coffee, stroll the mall and anything else that isn’t standing in a queue or sitting in a waiting area reduces customers’ perception of how long they’re waiting. In other words, a 30-minute wait still takes 30 minutes, but if people can spend those 30 minutes doing whatever they want, it won’t feel quite like a half-hour has passed.

When customers don’t feel like the wait is crushing them — as they might in a physical queue — their anxiety decreases and they’re less likely to abandon their carts. Untethered from a defined waiting area, these customers see more of the store, and because they’re in a better mood, they’re more inclined to make additional purchases. Furthermore, the improved experience turns customers into repeat customers.

Digital Opportunities

Many retailers have digital screens and displays peppered throughout their stores, but none of these channels brings the impact that the screen in a customer’s hand offers. People today rely on their smartphones for so much, making the technology a great way for retailers to engage with customers and vice versa. Virtual queues offer a simple way to deliver this connection that can ultimately lead to more sales.

Customers engage with a virtual queue almost as soon as they scan a QR code or check in at a kiosk. The system sends notifications on wait times and can ask questions such as what kind of service customers require and if they have unique needs (e.g. to talk to a technology specialist or to a customer service rep who can speak their primary language). When a customer reaches the front of the line, employees are ready to provide the best service based on the previous queue interactions.

Virtual queue notifications offer more than just convenience. Because customers look forward to each update that shows how much closer they are to reaching the front of the line, retailers can take advantage of this constant curiosity by also sending promotional offers directly to the queued customers’ smartphones. These offers could be digital coupons, sales happening in another part of the store, upcoming events or anything else that encourages customers to make additional purchases now or later.

Furthermore, the sales potential doesn’t end after people leave the store. Once a customer is in the system, retailers can continue to send them promotional offers. In this way, virtual queues don’t just manage waits — they provide opportunities.

A World of Data

Brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to get customer and sales data that their online counterparts enjoy. If stores can get some deeper data, it often comes at a steep cost and technology investment. Virtual queues upend this challenge by providing a wide range of data simply by tracking customer decisions once they check into the system.

Among the metrics that a virtual system can deliver:

  • Number of customers using the queue
  • Abandonment rates
  • Length of time in the queue
  • The types of service customers needed
  • Repeat customers
  • Interactions in the system
  • Employee efficiency

Data points such as these offer more than just how well queues are working; they provide a snapshot of customer behavior that is far more actionable than the numbers a sensor at the front doors might tell you.

Attention to Details

Although virtual queuing involves a technology decision, the human element of the solution is just as essential if the goal is to increase customer sales. Details matter, not only in how you configure the system but also when it comes to how you get people into the system. Do you go with a QR code or a kiosk? What if a shopper doesn’t have a phone with them? Will you have a greeter with a tablet helping customers, and what do you do if the battery on the tablet runs out?

These questions might be similar to others that come with operational strategy. Virtual queues offer another piece of that puzzle and can help other pieces fall nicely into place.

VP of Sales Steve Covate leads Qtrac’s national sales team of software executives, technical sales engineers and inside sales support in selling, configuring, servicing and maintaining virtual queuing solutions to leading organizations across the globe. Experienced in developing strategic sales plans that promote growth and customer retention, Covate has successfully led sales efforts in a variety of industries including retail, airline, construction, transportation, government, hospitality, banking, education, stadium and arena, healthcare and entertainment.

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