The COVID-19 pandemic introduced unexpected challenges in the retail sector. Never had companies around the world simultaneously faced such a major shift in consumer trends, and it forced them to adopt innovative methods to maintain sales and think outside the box.
Thankfully, companies such as Ombori provided the tech-based solutions required for retailers to overcome their challenges.
Challenges Introduced by COVID-19
As a result of required social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols, retailers globally had to combat complex, unexpected changes in their operations in order to create a safe and secure environment for their consumers. Only by recognizing their new constraints and adopting creative solutions could they expect to continue operations and maintain business in a post-pandemic era.
According to Andreas Hassellöf, founder and CEO of Ombori, “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.”
He concluded, “To adapt, retailers have introduced new solutions that rely on innovative technology.”
Innovations Introduced During COVID-19
Ombori is one of the tech companies on the front line of the pandemic, helping retailers by introducing solutions to the vexing challenges they face. Some of the changes they implemented have been so useful that they are here to stay, while others may be fleeting. Here are the most pivotal systems introduced by Andreas Hassellöf and Ombori Grid, which ensured customer safety and satisfaction in the retail sector through the pandemic.
Queue Management Systems
Queue management systems are systems for managing queue lines. They include modern queue ticketing that relies on mobile phones or paper tickets, notifications that allow customers to entertain themselves while waiting, and extensive analysis that enables efficient staffing planning. Andreas Hassellöf reports that, when implemented effectively, these tools provide numerous benefits to businesses, including:
- Decreasing customer complaints
- Boosting staff productivity
- Improving the business image
- Streamlining sales
- Modernizing the customer experience
Proof of the effectiveness of queue management systems was evident across the globe during the pandemic. Many companies successfully applied these systems to reduce customer wait times while maintaining positive customer experiences. Radisson Blu, located in Andermatt, Switzerland, is one example of a business that leveraged Ombori’s queue management system to ensure customers would experience zero queue lines – a challenge amidst a global pandemic.
The staff at the Radisson Blu, a luxury hotel and spa nestled into a ski resort, realized that it would take more than social distancing reminders to regulate the flow of guests in and out of the restaurant and spa during peak ski season. General manager, Andreas Meier, turned to the new Ombori smartphone queuing system.
The queuing system was a game-changer that kept customers happy. Meier explains that “Customers don’t expect to queue in hotels,” and Ombori’s system allowed management to use a simple system: a flier at check-in with a QR code and clear instructions on how to join the digital queue without ever having to stand in line with a bathrobe on, waiting for the sauna to open up. According to Meier, the new system resulted in dozens of glowing online reviews and even more than €2 million in new revenue.
Virtual Queuing and Appointment Booking
To avoid long lines and congested areas, consumers turned to virtual queuing to visit their favorite retailers, hotels, and grocers. Virtual queuing provides an easy way to manage customer or visitor queuing without having long lines. It includes four main components: booking, ticketing, notification, and admission. During the pandemic, shopping by booking an appointment became significantly more common.
Appointment booking incorporates online booking software and automated queuing systems like Ombori Appointment Booking. The system helps customers pre-book their visits and avoid queues – They can book online, or upon arrival using a QR code (no app required). Retailers can even offer timed appointments or allow them to join the queue and wait for the next available slot. During the pandemic, customers could reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 while continuing to live their lives. Leveraging these platforms, retailers and similar companies effectively managed a mix of pre-booked appointments and walk-in tickets while handling delays and reducing customer frustration. The result was a smoothing out of the usual peaks and troughs in demand as well as a reduction in missed appointments.
Andermatt, another Swiss ski resort, relied on Ombori Appointment Booking to manage ongoing booking operations during the pandemic. After watching an Austrian ski resort struggle to contain a “super spreader” event earlier in the season, the crew at Andermatt were afraid the government would shut down their Christmas crowds. They decided to be proactive. Chief Digital Officer Thomas Landis summarized the problem: “We have the majority of our revenue coming in the winter. We discussed it and realized we had only two entry points — the gondola and the cable cars — those were the bottlenecks here.” People already dislike queuing, and now, it even feels dangerous. The Andermatt staff put together an innovation team to tackle the problem.
The solution was a new partnership with Intel and Ombori. By October, the work was underway, and by November, a customized digital queue system for the ski lift was operable. Skiers booked a time slot for the lift in advance using their smartphone and then showed up accordingly. An inspector manages turnstiles and controls the flow. It was so successful, Landis says, that the call center received positive feedback and requests to continue using the system post-pandemic.
The COVID-19 virus is airborne, spreading mainly through close contact from person to person. Because of this, retailers were forced to reduce the occupancy within their stores, often counting the number of customers entering and exiting the building. Retailers turned to tech-based solutions, including Ombori Grid Occupancy Control, to ensure they were following local protocols. Ombori Grid Occupancy Control builds upon Ombori Grid People Counter, which tracks footfall and current occupancy using automated sensors or manual tracking. However, it also adds features like queue ticketing and pre-booked appointments. This way, businesses can do more than track occupancy; they can proactively manage traffic to improve customer experience and increase revenue.
ICA, a grocery retailer located in Stockholm, Sweden, found this tool especially effective during the most anxious times of the pandemic. The store utilized the display at the entrance to monitor store attendance automatically, which helped make customers feel safe when grocery shopping.
Peter Dinehage, the proprietor of ICA Roslagstull, reported, “The calculator has been greatly appreciated by many. This store is under control.” He continued, “They feel that it is a safe environment to shop in. This store takes its responsibility. It feels safe to shop here. I think that is a huge effect. The customer feels safe. And we’re in control. Many other stores have no control. It lulls [store operators] into a false sense of security.”
BOPIS and BOPAC
To cater to customers who wanted to avoid in-person shopping altogether, retailers turned to curbside pickup. Curbside pickup, also referred to as curbside shopping or curbside delivery, encompasses the practice of purchasing items online, then collecting them directly outside of the store. Companies such as Ombori refer to this innovative concept as BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) or BOPAC (curbside pickup). These systems offered the tech solutions necessary to navigate through the pandemic, and many expect their popularity to endure in the post-pandemic world. Here are a few benefits introduced by the BOPIS and BOPAC systems:
- Increase in sales thanks to better collection options
- Simplification of the process for the customer
- Reduction in errors in delivery
- Reduction in wait times for customers
- Reduction in the number of missed pickups
- Increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty
The damage that COVID-19 has done to communities and small businesses cannot be overstated, but one of the most admirable ways we respond to collective catastrophe is with resilience and innovation. From the unprecedented pace of vaccine development to the creative solutions of business owners and technologists, the world has stepped up to meet the adversity that the pandemic poses. Ombori’s ability to pivot and leverage technology in a way that helps consumers feel safe and regain a sense of normalcy is a powerful example of human resilience, and the practices of our businesses will reflect those positive changes for a long time.