While towns and retail parks looked somewhat apocalyptic, we piled the pressure onto online options, taking our typical physical sales out of our shops and onto the Internet.
Not only that, but our online options were the first to take a thrashing as the world searched out the items in severely low demand—from toilet roll and pasta to PPE and hand sanitiser.
But just how did that work for the online retailers and their eCommerce systems? Well, with servers set to manage an expected number of visitors, many were overwhelmed by the sudden influx, dropping connections and providing a less than satisfactory experience to those who weren't able to access those systems.
The savvier sellers saw the problem coming and signed up for online queuing services, protecting themselves from oversaturation over peak periods.
How does virtual queuing (AKA an online waiting room) protect busy websites' performance and sales?
Using our crystal balls, it would be far simpler to predict such surges, knowing when shopping waves were likely to hit servers, and allocate the appropriate resources to manage them.
Life, sadly, is never so simple. Looking into historical sales surges during the early development of eCommerce and Internet selling, sellers were regularly caught short during peak periods or at launches of highly anticipated products. One obvious area of high demand was ticket sales management for popular events, concerts, and festivals.
Such surges have broken many an eCommerce website, with developers racing to create a secure solution, diverting a mass of traffic away from servers that needed to carry on their usual heavy lifting.
Sadly, the previous year hasn't seen us clogging up eCommerce systems to buy concert and festival tickets. The shift came as buyers needed a safer, guaranteed alternative to buying the groceries and daily consumables they needed and from guaranteed stockpiles, keeping their customer experience as happy and healthy as ever. Any problems with site crashes would damage brand reputation as well as masses of lost revenue, and that’s the last thing any operator needs.
Why is queuing necessary for online shopping?
Each website is hosted on an appropriate system for the amount of estimated traffic it's likely to attract. When more than the estimated safe level of traffic tries to force its way into a site, whether that's an eCommerce shopping experience, ticketing site, or just the plain old provision of valuable information, then it grinds the whole system to a halt, stopping anyone from getting anything until the problem is resolved.
Fixing those problems on the fly is no easy task, with the costs of doing so being vast. That's even before you add the enormous loss in revenue from the missed opportunities. What should have been a business's busiest and most lucrative session can result in nothing short of irretrievable losses and unnecessary costs.
Online Retail can relax – virtual queuing is ready to step in and to save the day
Being prepared for your worst nightmare is a must. Fortunately, the technology is neatly bundled and ready to implement without any real fuss.
So, online retailers, breathe. Never again will a surge in traffic plague your sleep with such continual worry.
Why is it important to keep buyers in a queue, how do you do it, and what are the tricks the savviest retailers have learnt?
It's all about emotions. Don't panic; we're not going to turn into over-woke, Zen-driven gurus, urging you to talk about your feelings, that inner peace=online pounds—or dollars, Euros, and the rest. Yet, how we feel during our online experiences is crucial to where we spend our money.
Keeping your customers happy at every stage of their journey throughout your website and with your brand is vital. As soon as they get bored, frustrated, feel forgotten or left out, they'll go somewhere else that will fulfil all those needs—practical and emotional.
Creating a queue online shopping users feel safe in
How you prevent customers from jumping ship is to do with how well you manage your virtual queues and waiting times. If you can find a way for them to enjoy their queuing experience, or distract them enough not to feel like they're even in a queue, then it's a pat on the back for your team and a steady stream of cash to your tills.
We're going to run through a few ideas of those who got it right during the pandemic and before, so when trouble traffic reared its head, they were ready and waiting to make sure they limited their sales losses.
The psychology of waiting in an online queue
A bad experience won't just lose you a customer during your peak times but also all of the repeat custom and loyalty they'd show your brand if you made them feel valued and respected during the process.
It isn't guesswork. It's psychology.
For strong mental health, every human has basic needs that need to be met.
For strong eCommerce health, every shopper has basic needs that also need to be met.
To retain your visitors and customers, they need to feel:
- And that their shopping experience is going to be a success
How do you flow feelings of security and satisfaction into a virtual queue?
First, ask yourselves how it happens in a physical environment? Well, for starters, shops have staff on hand to look after customers and answer questions.
Second, point of sale elements, posters, and marketing are all cleverly positioned to drive the customer flow to the most advantageous areas and entice them into buying—without being anywhere near the up-salable products or their initially desired items.
Finally, offers, free samples, and interactive engagement distract customers from the less attractive parts of their shopping experience. They all help to drive sales in alternative areas while providing a range of new emotions, from excitement and joy to anticipation of what their new items will add to their lives.
Using the same principles is vital in keeping your customers happy and contained in your virtual queue.
1. Meet and greet them as they enter your online queue
We speak about this in detail in some of our other posts and throughout our website. Why? Because it really matters.
Suppose your website visitor is placed into a queue without any explanation of why or what's happening next. They'll jump right out of it and straight into your competitors' hands. In the same way a queue in the high street with no explanation would send shoppers to an alternative store—so will your online queue experience.
Your queue needs a branded and entertaining explanation of why they're there, and most importantly, an introduction into how to monitor their position and how long their waiting time is going to be.
2. Explain why – give them the transparency they'll respect
If you're open and fair with your visitors, they'll feel respected and safe in the hands of your brand. If they know why they're in a queue and that they'll only be there a few more minutes, they'll probably flick through Facebook or put the kettle on in the meantime. If their estimated wait time is a few minutes, they’ll sit tight and wait their turn. If it’s more than a few minutes, they’ll find another way to fill their time—or you can do that for them with alternative choices, how to win prizes or earn referral vouchers.
Your respect for them will most likely be returned, and with it, the sales you just saved.
3. Managing traffic surges - occupy their time with things they'll embrace
A bored visitor is an anxious visitor. Anxiety will drive them to look for easier options and solutions. To plug their anxieties, distract them with things they like. It's that simple.
You understand your product better than anyone and should have a clear picture of what your typical customer looks like. Imagine you're in their shoes; what would it take to take your mind of the queue? Special offers? New lines? Industry news? How they'll use the discount code you're giving them as a thank you for their patience?
This is a great opportunity to place your customers on a brand new hook, as well as the one that drew them to your site in the first place.
Tips and tricks for online retailers when virtual queuing
Sell the sizzle and not the sausage! It's hardly a marketing breakthrough, but it's true, and it works. Appeal to their sense of lifestyle, broaden their horizons and show them—literally show them—how their life will be better.
1. Customers buy with their eyes
Physical shoppers have so much stimulus fighting for their attention: whether that's rails of clothes, cabinets full of tech, or testimonials delivered by an abundance of happy customers on video screens.
So why not provide beautiful imagery to expand their searches and experience with your brand and its products? Can you use interactive tech to immerse them even further and divert their brains from queue anxiety?
Alternatively, deliver videos of your items in use, with beaming users delighted with what their purchase has added to their lives—not just telling but showing how great it is to be part of your business's fan base.
2. Customer service is king
Just as your meet and greet at a shop entrance helps customers to feel cared for and valued, so will the meet and greet in your virtual queue. Deliver a means to answer visitor questions (an FAQ can provide almost everything they need to know and keep online chat to a minimum) and assure them that they're in the best possible hands.
And that discount voucher code? Money off just for turning up and being a little patient? Who could ask for better customer service than that?
Going the extra mile, can you offer exclusive services to your queuing customers? Consultations, sales support, advice, digital tours, and product suggestions? Keep them busy enough, and they won't be able to leave.
3. Collaborate to share the wealth and the traffic
One of the latest, increasingly popular methods of beating queue anxiety is to collaborate with other brands. This way, you can move your shoppers into a complimentary area, one from which they'll return as they reach the front of your queue.
By collaborating with other brands, each party stands to gain new customers, piggybacking each other's followers and fans, all while boosting their revenues. It's an area that's become incredibly popular with younger buyers in luxury markets.
Imagination and inspiration are your best tools for new ideas
These are just a few ideas for engaging and securing customers during a queuing experience.
Hopefully, they'll help to deliver precisely what you need to safeguard your sales, income, and your customers. However, be sure never to rest on your laurels—until you've got 100% conversion rates, there's always something more to squeeze from your sales projects—and if you find your foolproof methods, we'd love to hear all about them.