The pandemic could make lines at stores ‘totally unacceptable,’ says Qudini CEO Imogen Wethered

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The pandemic may spell the end of lines at stores, Imogen Wethered, founder and CEO of Qudini, said at a retail roundtable hosted by Insider.

“Retailers are going to have to work harder to implement new processes and digital ways of managing customers,” Wethered said. “For us, hopefully, that means queues will be totally unacceptable, and digital ordering will be everywhere as well as in-store appointments. You’ll be seeing contactless, curbside pick-up as well as virtual appointments.”

Wethered said that retailers were “losing their way” before the pandemic, often focusing on cutting costs instead of serving customers’ needs. However, the pandemic has proved that approach untenable. Safety concerns are now at the forefront of customers’ decision making, and people are also unlikely to give up the conveniences they’ve gained during the pandemic.

One such convenience is the rise of the curbside pickup order. Wethered said she’s heard from retailers who want customers to come back into stores after the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily what customers want.

“Customers are more likely to work with the brand if it offers curbside pickup,” Wethered said.” So is that kind of incremental sale going to be worth less or more than the customer actually returning?”

Instead of focusing on how to entice customers back to stores, brands should focus on engaging them digitally. Wethered points to the results of an April 2020 survey, in which Qudini asked 2,000 consumers about what they wanted from their brands regarding virtual appointments.

“It was pretty clear that millennial and Gen Z customers were three times more likely to want to engage with a brand virtually,” Wethered said. “It appears that customers would have wanted to interact with brands virtually from the comfort of their home or office all along.”

Buck Jordan, the CEO of Wavemaker Labs and another participant in the roundtable, said that food retailers will similarly need to provide customers with higher ease of access. Virtual brands and automation via robots would enable delivery and pickup systems to operate at unprecedented levels of efficiency. Even after the coronavirus, Jordan anticipates high levels of demand for off-premise consumption.

“Don’t be surprised if you continue to see more virtual brands and more robot made meals,” Jordan said. “I think 2020 is the year when restaurants woke up and said, we can’t operate the way we’ve been operating. We need to think differently if we’re going to get to the point of efficiency and profit again.”

Read the original article on Business Insider