The ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic is creating numerous conundrums for retailers during the busiest time of the year – the holiday season. As individuals try to cope with the consequences of a Pandemic Holiday – Halloween without trick-or-treaters, Thanksgiving without large gatherings, and December without parties – retailers are struggling to determine how to turn a profit during Black Friday and the holiday season without encouraging large in-person crowds. Fortunately, technology can help. Below is a list of five actions retailers can take to keep shoppers safe and spending money during this crucial time of year.

5 Ways to Prep Your Retail Store for the Pandemic Holiday Season - NextME Virtual Waitlist AppHow to Prepare for the Holiday Shopping Season in the Time of COVID-19

Eliminate crowded waiting rooms and long lines without forcing customers to wait outside in the cold

5 Ways to Prep Your Retail Store for the Pandemic Holiday Season - NextME Online Waitlist AppRetailers are faced with a catch-22 this year. Due to social distancing capacity limitations, you can’t allow large crowds in your stores. However, sending people outside to wait in the cold for an indeterminate amount of time is as good as sending them to your competitors that don’t have long waits. How do stores eliminate long lines without turning customers away, or losing them? One of the best ways to do this is by utilizing a virtual waitlist platform, such as NextME, that allows customers to join the waitlist either at your store (in-person or by scanning a QR code) or online from your site before they arrive. This system can then text notify patrons where they are in line, thus allowing them to wait wherever and however they want. No need to wait in the snow in a queue, or even arrive at the store before their turn.

Keep track of customers while serving at limited capacity

As stated above, sending a customer outside to wait in the cold is as good as sending them to another store. The key to making limited capacity work is to effectively keep track of and communicate with your customers who are waiting their turn to enter your shop. NextME’s SMS-based platform provides a number of ways to communicate with and keep tabs on your guests. Specifically, the platform automatically texts them important updates, and also gives them access to a virtual waiting room (discussed in more detail below) that provides more general updates. You also can easily filter your waitlist by curbside pick-up versus in-person customers and tailor your messaging to each group. Finally, NextME makes it easy for you to export customer data for COVID tracing purposes.

Engage with customers virtually since you can’t be as engaged in-person

NextME’s virtual waiting room is a great tool for filling some of the customer service void that’s been created by COVID’s social distancing protocols. Retailers can customize their virtual waiting rooms however they want. For example, a great use for this feature is to answer common questions guests have, such as: Are your most popular products in stock? Where to find the more popular products in your store? What discounts and specials are you running? By making effective use of the virtual waiting room, you keep guests informed, happy, and safe.

Allow for online shopping and ordering ahead

5 Ways to Prep Your Retail Store for the Pandemic Holiday Season - NextME Waitlist App

The internet is a magical thing. If your online ordering and shopping system is really streamlined and effective, you may be able to make your holiday profits without a single customer entering your store. Creating a stellar online shopping experience goes beyond building a great eCommerce site (although this is a critical first step). You also need to effectively enable curbside pickup and mobile ordering / communication. Again, NextME to the rescue. Our platform seamlessly integrates the entire process of a customer browsing and ordering online for in-store or curbside pick-up, then receiving SMS updates to let them know when to pick up their order. They can even check their position in line in real-time from their phones!

Use technology to improve operational efficiency and throughput

One of the few silver linings of the Coronavirus Pandemic is that it has given businesses an opportunity to streamline their operations and improve efficiency. And the more efficient you are, the easier it is to follow social distancing guidelines. This is where NextME really excels. Our platform is proven to increase guest throughput and help clients retain up to 35% more customers. One key to this is displaying accurate wait times, which reduces the number of calls from customers asking how long the wait is. Another important aspect is our predictive analytics, which help clients staff effectively during the busiest times of the day.