When ‘driving in-store traffic’ turned into ‘welcoming a few customers at a time’

As businesses re-open, many are less than inviting. Time to recast those physically distance lineup as 'pre-store traffic," and elevate it

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Customer experiences need to start as early as possible, including the moment they arrive at your door.

That door, however, probably looks a little different than it did a few months ago.

While out on a brief walk the other day, for example, I passed an art supply store in my neighbourhood that was officially back in business. The door, however, was covered in at least six different signs.

These signs informed me that:

  • The store would only accommodate eight people at a time (though there was no detail on how this would be policed)
  • You should stand at least two metres or six feet apart, even in their notoriously narrow aisles.
  • If you had signs of a fever or cough, you should stay the hell out (although maybe not worded exactly like that)

But, you know, besides that, Welcome!

That door passed through my mind when I received some recent data from Zenreach, a digital marketing agency that uses analytics and mobile location advertising to drive in-store traffic. The company took a look at consumer behaviors across the U.S. from April 1-May 5 and found that:

  • The busiest shopping days overall are Friday and Saturday.
  • The least busy days are Tuesday and Sunday.
  • Midday—between noon and two o’clock—is the busiest time for shoppers, so try to avoid going to stores during these hours if possible.
  • Another spike in foot traffic occurs between 4pm and 6pm, right when people are finishing up the workday.
  • The least busy times of day for shoppers are before 9am and after 8pm.
“So, for those feeling uneasy about venturing back into the wild, also known as the local corner store, the safest times to go would be in the early morning or later evening hours on Tuesday or Sunday,” the company said.
I reflected on this helpful information before taking a second look at the intended goal of the firm’s use of data and analytics:
Driving in-store traffic? Who on Earth would want to do that right now? 
Unless they were selling tickets to a hit play or the hot toy during the holiday season, most businesses haven’t had to worry about managing lineups to get in. They certainly haven’t had to make sure those lines were set up into chunks, like the squares of green tape that have been set up in a path outside my local Starbucks.
Instead of driving in-store traffic, a great deal of CX design in the near future may have to be focused on managing what I’ll call pre-store traffic.
Could this experience be elevated? I could see some brands experimenting with music, charismatic employees or smart digital displays.
I can also imagine a lot of brands continuing to treat their entrances with the cold officiousness of a clinical reception area or government bureau — until they start losing customers once the novelty of being able to visit has worn off.
Some might use the kind of data Zenreach is gathering to not only help influence these traffic patterns, but augment them with ways to shape a better experience.
They could do this by offering personalized recommendations on products to have them ready for faster pickup at a designated spot other than the main entrance.
They could suggest nearby activities for customers to enjoy before or after the ideal shopping times at their locations.
They could give you a sense of what crossing through the entrance will be like, such as whether someone is going to spritz your hands with sanitizer, (since this is not at all consistent across stores), or if there is an ideal way to navigate through popular areas (this would be a great time to update mobile apps with such capabilities).
At the moment, most businesses have reopened with an air that we should feel lucky we’re able to come back at all. In time, that will need to change. If they’re going to be more limited in the number of customers they serve, brands are going to have to turn those limitations into a sense of exclusivity — to not only make it feel like it was worth the wait in line, but that the lineup itself can be a positive aspect of making the trip.
Hopefully one day we’ll reach a point where driving in-store traffic can be a viable goal again. Right now, pre-store traffic has to become something customers do more than endure.

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