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The Cost of Being Crowded


7/12/21 - 

It only takes one bad experience to keep customers from coming back

By Nic Halverson, CEO of Occuspace



My favorite taco shop in San Diego, Oscar’s Tacos, had a killer $1 taco deal on weekday afternoons that my college roommates and I lived for. We were going to Oscar’s 2-3 times a week, but once word spread about the deal there would be a line out the door every time we went. It only took 3-4 trips of driving over only to see a huge line out the door until I stopped going to Oscar’s and I haven’t been back in years.

As I launched Occuspace at my alma mater, UC San Diego, to show students how busy gyms, dining halls, and libraries were in real-time, we quickly realized how important it was for people to know before they go to a busy place. In fact, we saw almost 6,000 students download our Waitz crowd monitoring app on the first day we launched with just one Facebook post to promote it. My dream of one day knowing how busy everywhere was before I went there was alive and well... but then I started talking to local business owners.

It seemed so obvious to me that as a consumer we all hate waiting and over-crowded spaces, but I had trouble convincing business owners that. Over and over I heard “why would I want to tell customers when I’m busy?!”

One thing we saw during the pandemic and especially now as restrictions have eased is that retailers and businesses are evolving their way of thinking.

Consumers now more than ever have become accustomed to instant gratification in their shopping experience. This is driven by more efficient ways to shop online and interact with brick and mortar. Thus poses the question:

As a business we want to be busy but can being too busy lose you money and customers? The answer is yes.

Although online options have increased, brick-and-mortar remains the preferred shopping experience. Prior to the pandemic, in-person shopping accounted for 85% of retail sales . While it may look different than before, physical shopping is rebounding as the end of COVID brings a deceleration of digital retail. As retailers bounce back, it is now more important than ever for them to create personalized and frictionless customer experiences. Telling customers how busy their stores are in real-time can be a difference maker that gives customers a better experience, makes them loyal to your brand, and helps with employee retention, stress, and scheduling all at the same time.


Overcrowding creates frustration

Some business owners think being consistently busy can be a draw to customers and exhibit demand, but being too busy over time can diminish both customer and employee experiences, eroding what they’ve been working to build. Globally, negative shopping experiences are costing retailers an estimated $71B in abandoned brick and mortar sales per year. Additionally, studies have found that 86% of people avoid stores they perceive as busy, and 73% of shoppers cite overcrowding as the top reason they get frustrated with in-store experiences.

As more and more people are getting vaccinated, they are venturing out into the world at increasing rates. Since Memorial Day (May 31) two thirds of Americans saw family and friends, and 61% went out to eat. These figures represent the greatest level of out-of-home activity since the beginning of the pandemic. People want to be out and about again, so how can businesses use new technology to mimic our favorite parts of the online experience in-store to improve the customer experience, reduce friction and more importantly boost their bottom line?

They can fight their instinct not to provide live crowd levels by making it available to their customers. By empowering consumers with a choice of when to visit a retail location on their terms -- whether to avoid the crowded times or just to set their expectations before they arrive - business owners are giving consumers a choice that, in our view, will create long term, more loyal customers.


Earn loyalty

Integrating real-time data on your website or mobile app gives customers a great reason to further engage with your brand while also getting data that will improve their experience and overall happiness. Over time, that earned loyalty will pay off with customers naturally choosing to either visit a different one of your locations if their go-to place is busy or order online to avoid the long wait.


Mimic the online experience

You can also use real time data to mimic part of the online experience people love so much - the personalization aspect. 90% of customers like when content is personalized to them while 74% of customers get annoyed when content isn’t relevant. Helping them plan their trip, and their day around the least busy times in the store customizes the experience for each person.

The other group that benefits from this is your staff. As customers get accustomed to having live crowd data, retailers should see a more consistent flow of customers. This means employees will have a more consistent and manageable workload that will decrease stress, turnover, mistakes, and other pressure-related issues with your workforce. Having real-time data will do more than just improve customer satisfaction, but also make efficient staffing easy.


Make improvements to spaces

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Use both real-time and historical occupancy data to help customize your store design based on traffic flows. For example, look at heat maps to know where patrons sit most or duration data to understand how often people visit. Your business can evaluate different layouts to analyze how they affect traffic flow and use footfall data to see how marketing strategies translate into attributable metrics like how many people visit your locations and how long they stayed as a result.

If you are still questioning, why would I want to tell customers when I’m busy? It could drive my customers to the competition. The answer is, yes that could happen, but if they do come and it’s too busy, there's a 58% chance they won’t come back again. It only takes one bad experience to keep someone from coming back, so, why not equip your customers with the necessary information to plan their trip in advance? At the end of the day, having a great product and experience will always win in the consumer’s mind.

Let’s go back to my experience at Oscars Tacos. Now, if I knew how busy it was I could have avoided peak busy times and enjoyed my tacos without dealing with crowds. Although it may deter me from getting something I want when I want it, my overall loyalty to their brand and customer lifetime value would increase. The same goes for gyms, retailers, and grocery stores - because I think we can all agree that no one likes crowds.


Real-time occupancy data is the perfect solution for retailers in a post-pandemic world. Creating strong and trusting relationships with consumers in a unique way is what will keep them, overall benefitting your business in the long run.

Contact us to learn more about Occuspace and how we are helping retailers better measure their physical spaces to improve customer experiences and run their businesses more efficiently.


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