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Using Appointment-Based Shopping to Improve CX

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The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in many changes, particularly in retail, where the implementation of customer and employee safety protocols, such as sanitizing stations, mask wearing, and social distancing, became commonplace. But even as restrictions have been lifted in certain areas, some stores have been forced to adapt by reducing hours due to staff shortages, or finding new suppliers to account for shipping and supply chain delays.

Not all changes implemented because of the pandemic have a negative connotation or impact. Some retailers have modified their in-store experience is by introducing appointment-based shopping. Appointment-based shopping allows customers to book a timeslot, either online, via phone, or via text or mobile application, to schedule a private or semi-private store visit. The goal is to let customers browse or shop at their own pace in a less-harried environment, also enabling the retailer to provide a more personalized shopping experience.

Before the pandemic, appointment-based shopping was generally reserved for high-end, luxury brands or purchases, or for high-touch, service-based industries such as residential real estate. However, some retailers have adopted this style of shopping, as it provides benefits to both the customer and the store. Indeed, a May 2021 survey of 2,022 US respondents by software provider Qudini found that compared to before the pandemic, almost half (46%) of consumers said that during the pandemic they were more likely to want to schedule appointments within retail stores and banks. Furthermore, 48% of consumers wanted to be able to schedule appointments for in-store service and 46% wanted to be able to schedule fixed times to browse and visit shops.

For example, Apple began to implement this concept prior to the pandemic, offering booking-only access to one-on-one sessions with a specialist and Genius support, which helped reduce the time customers had to wait in line. Meanwhile, Best Buy had also implemented an appointment-based service model prior to the pandemic, with the goal of ensuring that customers receive the proper attention without feeling rushed.

Other stores also embraced full shopping-based appointments, such as Ulta Beauty and Lululemon, which permitted customers to book appointments to browse before, during, or after regular store hours. But it is not just large chain retailers that are using an appointment-based model to delight customers. Syracuse, New York-based Ish Guitars also switched to an appointment-only model during the pandemic.

The store, which generally caters to customers seeking higher-end new and vintage guitars and amplifiers, said the shift to an appointment-only model provided several benefits to its customers, including the opportunity to enjoy a more personalized, one-on-one sales experience. It also permits the customer to take their time and evaluate a variety of instruments in a relatively quiet, focused environment, and enables them to ask specific questions of the salesperson without needing to compete for their attention among other customers.

The store is also able to deploy its staff in a more efficient manner; appointment-based sales tend to limit the number of pure window shoppers that have little intention of purchasing an item. Scheduling appointments also allows the shop to let its workers focus on other functions (e.g., sourcing new products, arranging trades, or photographing or demoing new gear) when not helping customers, instead of simply being deployed on a sales floor that has little or no foot traffic.

There are numerous benefits to any store seeking to deploy an appointment-based shopping model, which can provide positive impacts on operations and CX. Appointment-based shopping provides retailers with greater control over their store operations, while also offering a safer and more personalized space for customers to shop. A few other benefits to consider include the following:

  • Limits store traffic, which eliminates or reduces lines, and can virtually eliminate customer-based shrinkage if using an appointment-only model.
  • Allows for easier cleaning/disinfecting between appointments, particularly in situations where customers are touching merchandise.
  • Provides the opportunity to create a tailored, personalized experience. Once a customer has booked an appointment, a retailer can contact them to identify what they are looking for, and these items can be prepared and set up for the appointment.
  • Builds brand loyalty, and enables deeper customer relationships. By scheduling appointments, workers will have the capacity and energy to provide extra attention to customers, truly get to know them, and encourage them to return.

For some retailers, a blended model, with a specific amount of time each day reserved for appointment-only shopping, may make sense. In this case, scheduling appointments during the times of day when foot traffic is slow can ensure that appointments do not cannibalize walk-in sales opportunities, and can also be used to manage staffing shortfalls. Perhaps most importantly, using an appointment-based sales model requires that the entire customer interaction be as friction-free as possible, which includes ensuring that it is easy to select, pay for, and take delivery of merchandise. This requires an evaluation of the current processes in place and may require changing specific functions (e.g., fulfillment procedures) to ensure that customers are satisfied after each appointment.

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