After the first Corona lockdown in spring 2020, the store of a sportswear manufacturer in the designer outlet Wertheim Village in Baden-Württemberg was finally able to reopen in mid-May. However, the store’s retail space is relatively small at 400 square meters. This means that only 16 people were allowed in the store at any one time, according to the corona requirements imposed by the local regulatory authority at the time. The massive visitor restrictions initially resulted in very long queues of up to 200 people. Some customers had to wait 4-5 hours in the queue to be able to enter the store.
Store manager Tobias Klee and his team therefore looked for an efficient solution for appointment booking to avoid the long waiting times and optimize customer service.
The initial situation
“We were looking for an individual and at the same time fast solution that would help us avoid the long waiting times. At the beginning, we came up with the idea of having customers draw digital waiting numbers in order to adapt to these special times,” Tobias Klee describes the difficult situation. The team initially had an employee sitting at the store entrance with an iPad. Here, customers could register spontaneously. However, this handling turned out to be far too time-consuming and still caused queues.
The store operators were under pressure in this exceptional situation.
“The regulatory office would likely have made further regulations, or the center operator would have pushed to use its own appointment booking provider. This system was not adaptable for our small store. It was too complicated to handle and to educate the amount of customers,” the store manager continues.
“In a team meeting, we agreed that we needed an individual appointment booking system to be able to react flexibly to waiting times. Our problem was that we only have a very small store area compared to other stores in our retail chain. However, the customer frequency is comparatively very strong. On average, 1,000 people come into the store every day, and before Corona it was even 2,000 visitors,” says Tobias Klee, describing the initial situation.
Without appointment booking there were long waiting lines.
The use case
“The existing tool, which was offered by our own retail chain, did not suit us either. We could only assign 4 appointments every 10 minutes with it. We would not have been able to react flexibly if customers left the store before the specified time had expired. This would have meant that we would still have had long queues,” says department manager Marian Duschek.
Marian Duschek built a flexible application in just one night
Fortunately, Selma Klee, who also works at the store, had an idea. They could digitize the system of a meat counter in the supermarket. Marian Duschek, who is taking a distance learning course in IT management on the side, expanded and optimized the existing booking program pulling one all-nighter. According to the IT student, programming was easy. His application now updates itself live based on recent visitors and shows the current waiting time to customers.
A QR code opens the mobile website set up specifically for this purpose. Store visitors now have the option of conveniently booking an appointment via their cell phone on the website from home or by using the QR code directly at the entrance. “This means that our customers can avoid pointless waiting time. They visit other stores in the center first or come to us specifically for the booked appointment,” says Marian Duschek, describing his flexible IT solution.
The decision-making process
In addition to the homegrown application, the team still needed digital communication directly with customers to let them know, via cell phone, when their appointment was expected to be. The notifications should come “updated live” either by SMS or by email. The innovative store team therefore set out to find an SMS gateway provider. They needed to send many SMS messages cost-effectively and to be able to reach customers with the message in a personalized way.
Efficient customer communication was impossible before using the SMS business solution.
“We had informed ourselves internally within the company in advance and discussed what kind of product we needed. Through online research, we found various German business messaging providers. We then contacted sms77.io first. The reason was the appealing webpage and the good reviews and references of sms77.io. We were well supported by owner Christian Leo – someone was there for us immediately in the live chat to answer our open questions. After the following phone call, we immediately decided for sms77.io, because time was of course also pressing.”
It was also important to them that the SMS costs remain manageable and reasonable and that everything runs smoothly from a technical point of view. “The appointment confirmation via SMS is a service contact point for many customers. They feel they are communicating digitally and directly with our brand. In summary, these factors led us to choose sms77.io,” Tobias Klee explains the rest of the process.
Solutions and improvements
With the SMS solution, the team now offers its customers a way to bypass the queue. 15 minutes before customers are allowed into the store, they receive an SMS. It says: “You have booked an appointment for 1 person with us. Please come to the entrance now and wait to be called.” If customers change their minds, a link to cancel is also included. “It only took me half an hour to install sms77.io’s API, it was very easy to implement. The setup was very customer friendly. For us, the dashboard of sms77.io is also very important to be able to make regular analyses and statistics,” the department manager says.
The intuitive solution via SMS saves money. Otherwise, the only alternative is to assign an employee to inform the customers.
The store team is very pleased with how they proactively implemented the solution during the crisis situation. They are now able to adapt to the respective Corona regulations and block appointments. They have also been approached by other store operators in the center to see if they could use the solution at their facilities as well. “That’s why we founded a company, we.havenoq.com, and are now selling our idea to other store operators,” say the founders Selma Klee, Marian Duschek and Tobias Klee happily.
At the time of the interview, in early December 2020, 40 people were allowed in the store at a time again. “On Saturdays, for example, many families with children are out shopping – they tend to stay in the store longer. That’s when it’s especially important that we don’t fritter away booking times. The situation on Saturdays is such that a queue of people with and without appointments forms anyway.
However, we are observing that the buying behavior of customers is already changing. It’s noticeable that people no longer come just to stroll and look, but now come to buy specific items. By the way: We were completely booked up with our booking system on Black Friday. Our customers are really taking up this offer well.”
The fact that the SMS is received within seconds creates trust and a secure feeling in the customer.
“We would like to be able to respond flexibly to our customers. If we don’t do this, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among those waiting. Only with foreign cell phone numbers were there problems with SMS delivery from time to time. Otherwise, we have received consistently positive feedback. Our customers are happy that we have found a solution. They feel that the appointment bookings are a good service they get from us,” concludes Tobias Klee.
On December 16, 2020, all stores nationwide had to close again in the second lockdown. When they reopen in the future, the store team will be happy to continue to cater to their customers and the orders of the regulatory office with their flexible booking system.