Shopping by Appointment: The Benefits and How to Get Started

Learn how to adapt your retail business to the latest shift in shopping habits with our guide to appointment shopping. Personalise your service with Square Appointments.

Having endured a life-changing pandemic and three national lockdowns, it’s no surprise that the UK’s retail landscape has significantly changed, particularly for brick-and-mortar retailers.

As restrictions have started to lift, physical shops have had to adapt to social distancing with one-way systems, fewer employees and limits on the number of customers allowed inside – this can be especially restrictive for smaller stores.

Consumer habits have shifted too, with online sales rising to a record high of 33.9% of all retail spending in 2020 and 17.2 million UK consumers are expected to change the way they shop as a result of the pandemic. So, how can your retail business adjust to this shift in shopping habits?

One of the most popular ways retailers have modified their in-store experience is by introducing appointment-based shopping. Read on to find out the advantages of this personalised service and how you can implement the model in your stores.

Table of contents:
What is appointment shopping?
What are the benefits of appointment shopping?
Is appointment shopping right for my business?
How to set up appointment shopping

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What is appointment shopping?

Appointment-based shopping allows your customers to book a timeslot online for a private or semi-private store visit. They can then enjoy browsing at their own pace in a quieter environment, or you can set up a bespoke itinerary for their appointment to provide a more personalised retail experience.

Prior to 2020, appointments had only really been used by high-end, luxury brands. But with the recent changes to physical retail, this style of shopping is starting to filter through to a wider range of stores.

Brands such as Apple began to implement this concept relatively early in the pandemic, offering booking-only access to one-on-one sessions with a specialist and Genius support.

Stores like Pandora, Moss Bros and Selfridges also made the move to in-store appointments, while John Lewis offered virtual personal shopping, styling and home interiors appointments.

What are the benefits of appointment shopping?

Appointment shopping offers a range of benefits to both retailers and consumers, especially in the wake of COVID-19. It gives retailers more control over their store, while providing a safer space for customers to shop. Here are some of the other benefits to consider:

Limits store traffic

With retail appointment scheduling, you can manage the number of people in your store at any given time and reduce the need for any unruly queues outside the window. This not only makes your job easier, but it also creates a happier environment for shoppers.

Easier to clean between appointments

You’ll know in advance when your appointments are and how long they will last, so you can plan some cleaning time in between the slots to keep your store up to scratch and safer. Plus, with fewer people in the store, you’ll be more aware of which items have been touched or tried on, so you can tailor your cleaning accordingly.

Ensures consumers feel safer

Customer health and safety is always your number one priority, and with 96% of consumers saying they will continue to take personal safety precautions while shopping, it’s a priority for them too.

With appointment shopping, customers can enter your store with peace of mind that the shopfloor is clean and fitting rooms are clear, with plenty of space for browsing.

Opportunity to create a more personalised experience:

Boost your level of service with a personalised appointment to suit your customer’s needs. Once they’ve booked their slot, you can call ahead to find out exactly what they’re looking for – whether that’s Christmas gifts, a tech upgrade or a new summer wardrobe. Then, when they visit the store, you can have the suggested items ready to go.

Build brand loyalty

Personalised customer experiences like retail appointments are a great way to drive brand loyalty. By scheduling your time, you’ll have the capacity and energy to provide extra attention to your customers and encourage them to return.

Is retail appointment scheduling right for my business?

Appointment-based shopping is extremely flexible and can be implemented across a variety of retail businesses of any size. Clothing stores, wedding boutiques and furniture shops can use the model to create a personal shopping experience for their customers. Salons, opticians and auto-repair shops are no stranger to booking systems but can also use a schedule to better manage their time with each client.

You can also create a blended business model, where a certain amount of time each day is appointment-only, and the rest is business-as-usual. In this scenario, it’s best to schedule your appointments when footfall tends to be at its lowest, so you don’t miss out on the additional walk-in traffic.

How to set up appointment shopping

Now you know all about appointment shopping, it’s time to put your plan into action. Check out our different steps for creating your appointment-based business:

Physical space

First things first, let’s make sure your store is set up for appointment shopping.

You’ll need to decide whether your customers will be free to roam the shop by themselves or whether you’ll be offering a tailored service. You can then cater the space to the experience.

Some potential ideas could be an initial consultation space at the front of the store or an upgraded fitting room to create a more private feel.

Appointment-scheduling software

Next, you’ll need to choose some suitable appointment software. Square Appointments is our easy-to-use scheduling system that lets you take bookings and payments in one go.

The platform is very flexible, so you can modify appointments, send reminders and add in any specific information, such as client requests and recurring bookings. You can also use the tool to create staff calendars and timecards for any employees.

Integrated payment systems

You’ll also need to set up an electronic payment system which can be integrated with your appointment software, such as Square Retail POS.

This gives your customers a range of payment methods, including contactless, invoices, gift cards and prepayments at the time of booking. It also gives you the option to add click-and-collect to your store offering.

Train your staff

Your staff are an integral part of your business success, so they’ll need to be brought up to speed on how the retail appointments will work and what is expected from them. This could include health and safety requirements for team members and customers, how they are expected to social distance and any cleaning procedures.

Spread the word

Make the most of social media and digital communication platforms to promote this new addition to your business. Get creative on social media with infographics explaining how the appointments will work or send out an email to previous clients and customers, showcasing the new booking system.

Once your appointments are up and running, you can also engage with your customers online to gather their feedback or send out questionnaires about the experience.

Create an online store

“COVID-19 has re-wired the customer journey … with digital playing a much more important role”, says Retail Economics chief executive Richard Lim.

By creating an online store for your business, customers can browse products before their appointment to give them an idea of what they want to see or try on when they visit the physical shop.

This creates a seamless online to in-store customer journey which not only increases the chance of a successful sale, but also boosts your level of service and encourages customers to return.

The retail landscape is changing for good, so now is the time to think outside the box and create an innovative in-store experience for your customers. With the help of Square, you can easily transition to this new, personalised way of appointment shopping.