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Survey: Long wait lines in stores amid pandemic may cost retailers $100 billion

Customers are walking out of stores due to long lines caused by COVID-19 occupancy limits, and U.S. retailers are losing substantial revenue.

According to a new survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers from virtual wait line and appointment booking software provider Qudini, 14% of respondents were often avoiding entering, or walking out of, stores without service because of lines before the pandemic began. An additional 33% said they were doing so “sometimes.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, 25% of respondents said they are “much more likely” to avoid entering stores or are more likely to walk out of stores without buying anything because of lines for service. An additional 28% of consumers said they were “more likely” to do so. Qudini calculations indicate U.S. retailers are losing a total of $100 billion per annum in immediate lost revenue opportunity as a result.

The survey found that millennial and Gen Z consumers, and those from higher household income groups, were at least twice as likely to avoid entering stores and to walk out of stores without service before the pandemic, and slightly more likely during the pandemic.

The survey also revealed that 30% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement “A long waiting experience would make me less likely to return to a retailer,” while 33% somewhat agreed. 

Respondents’ biggest concerns when waiting in lines are contracting COVID-19 at 47%, lack of comfort (35%), lack of certainty and information (34%), wasting time (28%), and disliking waiting in poor weather conditions such as rain or snow (26%).

When asked how long they were prepared to wait in lines to enter stores or to receive service, 20% of respondents were only prepared to wait up to three minutes. Seventeen percent will wait between three and seven minutes, and 16% will wait between eight and 10 minutes. Only 19% of respondents will wait more than 11 minutes.

Respondents were willing to wait the longest in essential store types, such as grocery, retail and pharmacy stores, as well as cycle stores, mom/children/toy stores, optician/eyewear stores, travel agencies, car dealerships and luxury fashion/product stores.

In contrast, respondents were the least willing to wait at garden centers, make-up/skincare stores, homeware/furniture stores, fashion apparel stores, sportswear stores, and jewelry stores.

Almost half (49%) of respondents felt a virtual wait line system that enabled them to join a line from their phones or a store host and receive phone updates while they waited would reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. Other benefits that appealed to consumers included enabling them to use their time more productively (37%), providing extra information (39%), avoiding wind and rain (26%), and creating a fairer process (23%).

The option of booking store appointments for service or store entry also appealed to 30% of consumers for its ability to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Other benefits included increasing efficiency and avoiding lining up (19%), better, more dedicated service (15%), and greater fairness (12%).

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