Why retailers are turning to technology to get rid of lengthy queues

Juha Mattsson

With technology now deeply embedded into our everyday lives, our patience in day to day activities is eroding. Consumers no longer want, or expect, to spend time waiting in line when they can get something instantly somewhere else. According to Ofcom, the average adult internet user claims to spend over 20 hours online per week, while recent research from ING revealed that in the past 12 months 84 per cent of shoppers are buying through a mobile device instead of popping to the shops.

According to a recent report from Sage Pay, it is estimated that British retailers lose almost £4,000 a day because people are put off making purchases by lengthy queues and choose to abandon their baskets. Shopping can bring lots of different frustrations but queuing is one of the worst and as a result we are seeing more retailers turn towards technology to try and get rid of queues altogether.

It’s now time for retailers to take the queuing experience to the next level

Retail analytics and queue management technologies are something that many retailers have been fine tuning over the years to improve their business. Virtually all online retailers base their success on heavy data and analytics – everything is measured, optimised and personalised in real-time, down to each individual customer. But in-store is still catching up.

Brick and mortar stores face several challenges. First, the traditional data sources have been limited to point-of-sale data and door counters, while expensive one-off in-store studies have been set aside. As well as this, many physical stores are blinkered in their efforts to try and understand in-store customer behaviour. In-store analytics has been largely based on heavy customer behaviour studies, often requiring a tailored and very expensive approach to data analysis. This makes it slow to react to changes in day-to-day store operations and marketing, and is often unattainable for specialist retail needs.

By implementing technology that employs sensors and beacons to track customers in stores, retailers can understand queue lengths, waiting times and customer flow in real-time through smartphones and in-store Wi-Fi. As well as this, queue management systems can predict customer queuing by analysing when and how many customers enter the store and project queue lengths for those customers based on current conditions. John Lewis is one company who has recently implemented this to shorten queues for its click and collect parcels.

The queue management technology is not limited to retail

It can also help airports manage passenger flow. In airports, long queues and waiting times are considered one of the most frustrating parts of the travel experiences. Poorly managed queues at check-in, security, restaurants and gates directly impact passenger experiences and retail spend. This technology can help measure in real-time how many people arrive at parking halls, public transportation and terminal entrances, then use that data to automatically inform airport management of predicted queue lengths 15 minutes later. This allows airport management to open more check-in desks where necessary or put more staff on the airport floor, helping to reduce queues quickly and maintain airport efficiency.

With consumers’ patience with queuing dwindling, high street stores and airports face a more challenging environment to manage queues to not only avoid customers abandoning their baskets, but also to create the ultimate experience for consumers in their stores. The art of queuing is evolving and it is time for retailers to react to customers’ needs.

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Walkbase provides a retail analytics solution for improving the impact of marketing on physical stores and personalising in-store shopping experience.