Buying by Appointment

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Scheduling shoppers to browse and rest-test may make them more comfortable visiting your brick-and-mortar store

Thumbtack in calendar concept for busy, appointment and meeting reminder

People make appointments for doctor visits, haircuts and oil changes. Will they make appointments to shop for mattresses, too? With new concerns about social distancing and sanitation, we think so. 

As the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, Fox Mattress, a manufacturer-retailer based in Holly Hill, Florida, began to offer private appointments to its customers. Even some of the nation’s largest retailers have begun to schedule shoppers. For instance, as Best Buy reopened locations, the big box chain christened its new business model an “in-store consultation service,” permitting customers into its stores by appointment only to shop alongside (socially distanced, of course) a gloved-and-masked Best Buy employee.

“The buying experience is quickly becoming a planned experience, with stores personalizing these appointments for the person who scheduled,” writes Cory Treffiletti, head of marketing for Milpitas, California-based Webex Cisco, in a May 13 article on MediaPost.

As a practical matter, scheduling shoppers is a way to ensure that your showroom or bedding department doesn’t get overly crowded and gives staff plenty of time to clean between customers. As important, the practice could give consumers the confidence they need to return to brick-and-mortar stores.

As Treffiletti notes, appointments also have benefits that have nothing to do with COVID-19. First, the practice elevates the shopping experience, making customers feel special because they have your full attention. Second, scheduling shoppers allows you to gather important contact information and can get the buying process started early if you ask a few key questions at the time they book their appointment. Lastly, appointments may reduce the number of “be backs,” or shoppers who browse then promise to return yet never do. “If someone schedules an appointment, that’s a strong signal of intent to purchase,” Treffiletti says. “You know the time spent with them is likely to result in a sale — usually a larger sale per customer.”  

Set aside some time in your own calendar to consider these questions before you start scheduling appointments:

  • Do you want to switch to an appointment-only model or continue to be open for drop-in shoppers, too?
  • Do you want to limit appointments to certain times of the day or certain days of the week, or offer them during normal store hours?
  • If you remain open for drop-ins, will scheduling appointments require extra staff to assist scheduled shoppers?
  • What system will you use to schedule and remind customers of their appointments? Online? Phone? Both? Would a text message nudge be helpful?
  • Do you want to offer a perk, such as a coupon or small gift, to encourage consumers to make an appointment?

“One of the threads I’ve seen emerge from COVID-19 is the rebirth of the community atmosphere that was dominant in traditional America,” Treffiletti says. “Maybe (appointments are) just the shot in the arm the retail world needs to compete with a totally digital-centric retail experience.”