Are you ready for the kerbside economy?

Dutch manufacturer Philips has given an insight into how retailers will start using technology to control traffic flow into stores. Via its Professional Display Solutions (PDS) subsidiary the brand has just launched a new PeopleCount system to aid with ‘customer line management’. What this looks like in practice is a series of entrance cameras that measure footfall and feed digital signage on a store’s façade to indicate customer numbers and projected wait times. Philips says the product can also integrate audio cues and a ‘red, yellow, green’ traffic light system to help make alerts universally understandable. It’s also possible to let the technology take control of automatic doors in order to manage queues autonomously, potentially freeing up staff to return to the shop floor.

‘Something as simple as visiting a supermarket or entering a leisure setting may now require a new level of thought, from queuing up outside to following marked-out routes,’ explains PDS Sales Director Roeland Scholten. ‘Technology can play a huge role in ensuring the current rules and guidelines are maintained and that customers and staff feel confident, safe and well informed at all times as they make moves back into a new normal’. Philips says that Retail Techniek, one of the Benelux region’s largest retail installers – which counts brands such as H&M and Footlocker as clients – is currently fitting PeopleCount across a number of stores.

Store façades will be reenergized as an interface between brand and consumer

What this signals is brands shifting from the messy, informal queuing systems that have been in place for the last few months, constructed from tape, temporary barriers and handwritten signs, to more formalized – and more permanent – solutions. With that comes a recognition that store façades will be reenergized as an interface between brand and consumer. PeopleCount signs also double as mechanisms for marketing and product discovery for those waiting outside. Stores won’t want to waste the time they have with that captive audience.

On the flip side, brands will have to see this as more than a targeted advertising channel. The queue now has to be considered part of the store experience, and meet the same standards. It can’t be overstated just how much longer shopping takes in this new reality, and thus the number of locations visited per trip will naturally drop. Making waiting not only bearable, but enjoyable and efficient, will be key in a future where customers will have to be more judicious about which stores they frequent.

Will this see a revivification of window display design?

Will this see a revivification of window display design? Possibly. Certainly retailers like Saks and Selfridges who have continued to invest heavily in creative merchandising will have reasons to ring-fence those budgets. The latter’s experimentation with new-media formats for its window displays, including shoppable content, take on even greater significance now. And as we cover in our latest issue – which you can download for free – with e-commerce pickups and returns already playing a greater role in store layouts, developing systems to allow customers to exchange packages without standing in line may also be trialled. The possibilities go much further, however, from hospitality to personalization to entertainment. With major cities around the world already implementing strategies to widen and improve pavements to enhance social distancing, the rise of a new kerbside economy seems imminent.

Read more about how we think the COVID-19 crisis will impact the future of workplace design here.

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