The retail industry was slingshot years into the future—seemingly overnight—during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns, unpredictable income, and fear of the unknown caused consumer shopping behavior to shift drastically.
People are now more more mindful of what they are purchasing and have adopted more discretionary spending habits, like spending money on groceries and household products over electronics and plane tickets.
Not only have consumer purchase priorities changed, so have how they shop.
Appointment shopping has become a popular practice for many retailers to mitigate crowded stores and maintain proper social distancing practices.
But as with many experiential retail tactics, there are several ways to approach appointment shopping. Here’s what you need to know about successfully implementing it.
Table of Contents:
What is appointment shopping?
Appointment shopping is when customers book an available time slot to shop your store in person. Typically, appointments are made online through a booking system, but some retailers offer call-ahead appointment scheduling as well.
Retailers may choose to let customers shop solo or create a specific itinerary for each appointment based on customer needs.
- Solo appointments allow customers browse your store as they usually would without worrying about bumping into other customers. Because of the reduced occupancy, customers also gain one-on-one access to store associates.
- Itinerary appointments are more structured and typically dictated by customer interests, needs, or objectives. For example, a beauty company may offer product education and trials for curious customers via itinerary appointments.
Aside from controlling how many customers are in your store, appointment shopping allows retailers to create a safe shopping environment while building a connection with customers.
This shopping method is incredibly impactful for retailers who rely heavily on in-store interactions with customers. Not only are retailers able to recover some of their foot traffic with store appointments, but customers are also receptive to the experience.
Data from our Future of Retail Report shows that 50% of consumers find the option to schedule a time for in-store shopping relevant to them.
“I think the pressure is on the brands to meet consumer expectations,” said Jill Manoff, the Editor-in-Chief of Glossy.
Appointment shopping isn’t a new concept. A study from customer engagement software JRNI found that 64.8% of millennial respondents booked in-person appointments an average of one to two times per year before the pandemic.
Download The Future of Commerce Report: Trends for 2022
Appointment shopping is a continually growing trend in 2022. According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, 34% of surveyed brands are investing in appointment shopping in 2022. Download the full report to learn more about this and other trends.Download report
Appointment booking is an impactful tactic that has stood the test of time—and for a good reason.
Why are retailers offering appointment shopping?
Appointment shopping may seem like a counterintuitive idea. After all, it only makes sense that retailers would want as much foot traffic as possible, especially after pandemic restrictions.
However, many customers aren’t comfortable with the idea of shopping at their favorite stores as they did pre-COVID. Here are some of the biggest draws of offering the experience of appointment shopping.
Enforces social distancing policies and better store hygiene
The days of packed stores and busy dressing rooms seem like a distant memory. Those images are replaced with masks, hand sanitizer stations, and floor stickers.
Because appointment shopping reduces the number of people browsing a store at one time, it’s much easier to practice social distancing. This shopping alternative opens the door to customers who may be uncomfortable with shopping in-store before vaccines become widely available.
What’s more, appointment shopping helps retailers keep up with store sanitizing requirements. Customers want greater hygiene transparency from retailers. In other words, brands need to show and tell customers what they’re doing to keep the store clean and up to health codes.
For example, in between appointments, employees can clean high-touch surfaces and restock hand sanitizer stations and masks if offered. This allows for better store hygiene and can make employees and customers alike feel safer, while also removing the pressure for employees to maintain standards among a busy sales floor.
Encourages in-store shopping at a time of health and safety concerns
Retailers must accept that some shoppers may still feel wary about entering a busy store, even as pandemic restrictions subside.
Research from McKinsey & Company found that 36% of US consumers are comfortable resuming “normal” activities outside of their homes. What’s more, 21% of US shoppers will feel comfortable engaging in these activities only once a vaccine is widely available.
Appointment shopping is a great way to recreate the pre-pandemic shopping experience and allows nervous customers to ease back into in-person shopping while adhering to health and safety measures.
Employee-run shopping appointments are a great way to ensure customers are sequestered to a specific area—like a dressing room—and avoid possible close interactions with other customers.
It’s also a great way to reinforce brand trust among customers—think “Our customers’ health and safety is our top priority” messaging.
Offers shoppers a better customer experience
Many retailers who relied heavily on in-store customer interactions struggled to create that same experience outside of the store. But as more stores have reopened since the pandemic hit, appointment shopping is a great way to get innovative with how your customers shop.
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For example, you could use technology like QR codes to allow customers to scan items they want to purchase. Or, turn your store into a showroom where customers can try on or test items to later check out online.
Appointment shopping is also a great way to introduce new customers to your brand due to its personalized nature. This connection can translate into more sales down the road.
Attracts more intentional shoppers
Because you’re limited in the number of people you can safely have in your store, offerings a set number of time slots available for customers to reserve generates a sense of urgency.
This encourages high-intent shoppers, or shoppers who are most likely to make a purchase, to book an appointment before they're gone.
To build more demand, retailers can also leverage other channels, like in a banner on your website or social media posts, to encourage customers with high purchase intent to shop in-store via appointment.
Examples of retail stores offering appointment shopping
One of the significant perks of appointment shopping is its flexibility. You can create an appointment shopping experience that fits both your capabilities and your customers’ needs.
Now let's look at a few merchants who are using appointment shopping in their own way to serve their customers.
LIVELY is a lingerie brand that prides itself on being a true game changer in the industry and refers to its unique bras and underwear style as “leisurée.” Michelle Cordeiro Grant, the founder of LIVELY, started the brand to empower women to feel comfortable, supportive, and sexy.
Appointment shopping isn’t anything new for LIVELY. Customers can book a bra fitting, known as a “fit sesh,” online for one of LIVELY’s four brick-and-mortar stores. These shop in-store, book-online appointments have generated great success—roughly 30% of LIVELY's in-store revenue.
These appointments can be made easily online using the Acuity integration for Shopify. Customers can book a 30-minute appointment that works best for their schedule.
This is also a great way to inform customers—who may not be aware of the “fit sesh” option initially—about this service and encourage them to make an appointment if they live near a store location.
Image source: Lively
What’s more, after LIVELY used Shopify POS to sync its brick-and-mortar sales data with its ecommerce sales data, it found that the average order value is between 60%–80% higher for customers who book an appointment online.
Image source: Lively
LIVELY lists the health and safety precautions its stores are taking to keep customers and employees safe, which adds transparency to the entire experience. Before they head to the store, customers know that LIVELY is making their health a priority, which makes for a better customer experience every time.
Black Mountain Yarn Shop
Don and Donna Farrow, the owners of Black Mountain Yarn Shop, are no stranger to learning on the fly. After moving to Black Mountain, North Carolina in 2003, the couple opened Black Mountain Yarn Shop as a way to put down their roots after falling in love with the community.
Once the pandemic hit, the Farrows were forced to think of ways to keep their doors (metaphorically) open. During the lockdown, they switched to Shopify POS and built a Shopify website to streamline their store operations across channels.
Image source: Black Mountain Yarn Shop
When Black Mountain Yarn Shop could open its doors to customers once more, it started taking in-store shopping appointments using BookThatApp.
To book an appointment, customers visit the Black Mountain Yarn Shop website, click on the “Shop by Appointment” button, read through and agree to the in-store shopping guidelines (e.g. shoppers must wear masks), and then select an appointment slot.
This way, Black Mountain Yarn Shop could safely stay open and maintain a steady stream of foot traffic. Some customers come with lists!
The Toronto-based vintage clothing retailer Street Cvlture offers various shopping options to customers in response to strict in-person regulations. The Street Cvlture team has built a successful brand with community and resilience as pillars.
From buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) to appointment shopping, Street Cvlture strives to provide its customers with a shopping experience that suits their schedule and preferences. Street Cvlture allows customers who call ahead and express interest in shopping in-store to browse a specific section of their choosing.
Because Street Cvlture's inventory is continually changing, call ahead appointment shopping gives customers the chance to peruse the racks, stay safe, and keep inventory moving.
Plus, vintage lovers are all too familiar with the certain type of scarcity that comes with vintage apparel. Call-ahead appointments add a layer of exclusivity and demand to Street Cvlture's shopping experience.
How to offer appointment shopping in your retail store
Ready to get started with appointment shopping? Here's a step-by-step look at how to make it work for your business.
1. Determine what your appointment shopping experience will look like
Before you start offering appointment scheduling to customers, it’s important to nail down how this experience will look.
Solo or employee assisted? Free-roaming or structured?
Figure out how you want customers to experience your store in an appointment setting. Brainstorm with your team to determine what is feasible and what will give your customers a full-brand experience.
Use this checklist to help you get started:
- How will customers book appointments?
- What happens after customers book an appointment?
- When will they receive appointment reminders?
- How long will your appointments be?
- What is your cancellation/no-show policy?
- Will customers shop on their own or with the guidance of a sales associate or consultant?
- Will you ask them what they’re interested in ahead of time?
- How will you make your in-store experience unique to your brand?
- How will you engage with your customers after they shop or make a purchase?
- If customers don't make a purchase, how will you follow up to share more about the items they browsed?
- How can they find you on other channels?
2. Choose an appointment booking software
Next, choose an appointment booking software. With so many options, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be sure to choose software that not only integrates with your store and point-of-sale (POS) system, but that is easy for customers to use.
- Consider software that offers features like sending customers appointment reminders, the ability to modify an appointment, and adding appointment-specific information like your store location, the time of the appointment, etc.
💡 The Shopify app store offers several appointment shopping apps, including:
- Tipo: an appointment booking software with features like Google Calendar and Apple Calendar integration, email notifications for bookings, customizable appointment design, and more.
- Sesami: a booking app that offers features like group appointments, team management and scheduling, and more.
- BookThatApp: a scheduling app that syncs with your business calendar and allows customers to book a time slot.
3. Promote appointment shopping on other channels, and make it easy to book
The goal of appointment shopping is to create a safe space for customers to shop while simultaneously building a connection—not to exclude customers.
Spread the word about this offering on channels like social media, email, your website, and paid ads—if you're running them.
For example, you could send out an email to past customers and share that you’re now accepting appointment shopping. Be sure to include a link to your website so customers eager to book their slot can do so easily.
The more you tell your customers, the more likely your appointment slots are to book up fully.
4. Set each appointment up for success with a short booking questionnaire
This step goes hand in hand with Step 3, but wherever you spread the word, make sure it’s easy for customers to make an appointment.
This could be a landing page on your online store, so it’s easy to link to and post about on social media and in email. We encourage retailers to offer time slots for customers to browse so to avoid back-and-forth about availability.
If you’re offering a hands-on appointment experience, be sure to ask questions like, “What products or services are you interested in?” and “What is your reason for shopping with us?”
These questions will help you understand each customer’s intent, so you can create the ultimate personalized shopping experience.
5. Align your team on the appointment shopping process
You know your appointment structure, and you've selected your software, but before you can start allowing appointments, you must ensure your team understands how they work and what is expected.
Health and safety precautions like temperature taking, hand sanitizing, and mask wearing are a few things to make sure you confirm for each customer before proceeding with the appointment. Walk your team through the process and explain in-between appointment cleaning procedures.
It’s also essential to have procedures in place if customers refuse to wear masks or have their temperature taken, so employees know how to handle those situations.
6. Collect feedback from your customers and analyze their experiences
Don’t forget about post-purchase communication! Following each appointment, send customers a survey (or have them complete it in-store at the time of purchase) to gauge how the appointment went and where you can improve.
This is a great way to make sure you’re delivering the best possible experience for customers and building long-lasting relationships with each one.
💡 DO YOU USE SHOPIFY POS?: Learn how you can enable Tips for Shopify POS so your customers can express their gratitude with the right amount.
There are several ways to approach post-purchase communication, which gives retailers the chance to connect with customers on their preferred channel. Below are a few ways to solicit customer feedback both on and offline:
- Send an email post-purchase with a link to a survey or feedback form
- Add a “click-and-share” feature to your email receipts for easy social sharing
- Print a discount code at the bottom of each receipt for future purchases in exchange for feedback
- Send customers a note via snail mail and include a link they can visit to leave feedback if they choose
Not sure where to start? Test a few channels and see what sticks. You may find that using more than one channel to solicit feedback is the most beneficial strategy for your business.
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