June 4, 2020 / Industry

In retail’s new normal, we must reimagine the experience of queueing

If we imagine life pre-COVID, creating great retail experiences that inspired mass queueing was a great benchmark for brands.

Some of our most notable projects with clients include Instagram sensation Morphe, the launch of Rhianna’s inclusive beauty brand Fenty Beauty into Harvey Nichols and Kat Von D’s debut on Oxford St. Creating queues of great sizes and long waiting times is testament to a brand’s success and the credibility of their retail experience. Now, as we set sail on new retail waters and a new normal, queueing will become an everyday expectation and essential part of the consumer journey.

Whilst it is certain that retail is facing challenges when it comes to reopening stores, we have an opportunity to reconsider the customer journey and fundamentally, ask questions as to how we can make it better. Before COVID, consumers entered stores as they pleased. Crowd control was seldom a factor in managing a retail experience. However, this is now a pressing point that stores must address.

“To be a retail designer is to be an experience designer,”

Michael Sheridan

“To be a retail designer is to be an experience designer,” says Michael Sheridan, co-founder of Sheridan&Co. Now we must consider the experience the consumer has in a queue. It is fundamental that we treat this experience as a touchpoint in its own right and conspire ways in which we can make that retail experience better – especially if consumers are confronted with long waiting times.

The Queueing Theory

In order to make a queuing experience something that is engaging for consumers, we must ask ourselves how we can make it something that is curated. One concept we can turn to in order to achieve this is queueing theory. Queueing theory which originated in the early 1900s is a mathematical study of waiting times and helps businesses manage queue lengths and understand waiting durations. The aim of the theory is to create a system that enables customers to be served efficiently. This is achieved by breaking down a queue into different entities for an activity. 

In the same way that other touchpoints in a store serve a purpose, from sales advisors giving consultations to Instagram screens providing digital connection and entertainment, brands have an opportunity to break down the customer journey in a queue and offer moments that are enjoyable, educative, or simply, just useful.

Making queues more useful

In 2011, Tesco Homeplus launched a virtual subway store in Korea so consumers could shop for grocery items whilst they passed ‘empty time’ during their commute. Whilst this is an old example, the lessons are valid. If queueing is to become a remaining touchpoint in retail’s new normal, can brands book out a screen for consumers to shop their products whilst they wait? There are of course two keys part to this strategy. Firstly, it must be lacking in contact. A consumer can use their phone to scan a QR code to avoid contact and this could also enable them to pay directly with apple pay. Secondly, how does this retail experience differ from an online experience? In popular locations, brands could launch queue specific exclusives, offers or discounts. This not only makes the time spent queueing more enjoyable than just waiting, but it also makes the experience feel advantageous and less mundane.

Making queues more entertaining

In terms of making a queueing experience more enjoyable, one tactic that retailers can include could be offering live entertainment. Brands can be intelligent about this, looking to support local artists or entertainers who are aligned with their values, whilst also giving them a space to perform. Retail experiences were formerly reserved for the in-store experience, but now, we must imagine what the consumer journey looks like before the customer walks in the door. 

Another entertainment trend retailers can look to for enhancing a queue experience is gaming. In terms of youth culture, gaming is accelerating and generated $152.1bn in 2019 alone. According to Newzoo, over a third of the world’s population actively plays games. Just before lockdown in the UK, gaming-lifestyle brand Razer opened its London flagship gaming hub, illustrating the rise of retail becoming a media outlet as well as a shopping floor. The trend for gaming is also starting to manifest in the beauty industry with Japanese sensory game specialist – Scenery Scent recently launching perfumes inspired by anime game characters.

Making queues more educative

Imagine for one moment you are in an art gallery and navigating a visually beautiful and curated display of an artist’s work and their ideas. Or perhaps, you are passing by a series of micro installations that are imbued with meaning. One of the unique selling points of retail experience is that like a gallery or an exhibit, the physical space of a store can become a place of theatre and visual appeal. Brands can break down their compelling stories, their heritage, craftsmanship and design processes and showcase these in a visually exciting way. Queues do not have to be uninspiring parts of the customer journey. Rather, they can be reimagined as pockets of experience that provide anticipation for the store experience that awaits a consumer once they get inside.

With more brands preparing themselves to create a new normal, there is an opportunity to disrupt the queuing experience for a retail store. If you would like further guidance on how to design your retail experience for a post-lockdown era, please contact us at team@sheridanandco.com.