As customers are doing more of their shopping online, retailers are trying to think creatively about how they can make the most out of their physical spaces, from non-competitive collaborations to showrooms laced with technology. But a simple online solution could be the answer to drive customers back to the high street.

Founded in 2008, BookingBug is an online booking system which integrates into a retailer's CRM or eCommerce platform to provide a simple way for customers to book appointments in store. From an appointment with a personal stylist to educational classes, retailers are using these bookings to drive customers into the store and increase basket spend. But without a seamless way to book a timeslot online, customers are less likely to take advantage of the value-added service.

 

"Retailers had spent years optimising their online presence, but with the media reporting 'the death of the high street' they were struggling to bring their physical locations in line with their digital strategies," said, CEO of BookingBug, Glenn Shoosmith. "This challenge was the catalyst for a significant trend we’re now seeing. In a bid to use their brick and mortar retail spaces to offer something Amazon cannot, retailers recognised the huge opportunity to use their stores for a new type of value-add – offering in person services, events, education and expertise. Whether it’s in store pet nutrition consultations, photography courses, expectant parent classes or bed-testing appointments, these services all need booking and managing."

BookingBug spent its first few years developing its client base of thousands of small businesses which needed simple booking facilities, but it soon caught the eye of the established brands, from retailer to banks and government departments. Now, the start-up provides its simple solution to retailers including: Mothercare to book expectant parent classes, Marks & Spencer for bra-fitting appointments, Pets at Home for nutrition classes and Waitrose for cookery school sessions.

John Lewis and American Golf

John Lewis is another big customer, with 12 services including personal shoppers, TV fitting and interior design consultancy.

Richard Ambler, head of product services at John Lewis, said appointments can allow retailers to create a deeper relationship with their customers. "By definition, they are non-transactional. There’s investment of time and effort on both sides."

He added: "On launch we immediately saw significant volumes of enquiries come in, validating our theory that this would be popular with our customers and enhance their omnichannel experience. We now have an online booking system which is being used by customers and enhancing their omnichannel experience - the next challenge is giving it the right level of visibility."

Another client of BookingBug is American Golf, which uses the solution to book customers in for fitting sessions. Dan Gathercole, head of marketing at American Golf, said the booking system has been very useful to drive customers to the store and after moving from paper diaries to an online tool, the number of bookings have doubled over the last six months.

"We have so much product, it is key for customers to try them all and have a proper fitting session in the same way you would for a suit or wedding dress – there's changes in grip size and you can have it tailored to your particular swing," explained Gathercole.

Implementing BookingBug also makes it much easier for American Golf to cancel, rearrange or book follow-up appointments.

"Having everything electronically is much easier than searching around for pieces of paper," he added.

From a customer perspective, the whitelabelled booking system is simple to use, they enter their postcode, select the service they want and book an appointment. For American Golf in particular, Gathercole said customers who book a free appointment are three times more likely to convert than a walk-in customer.

Integrating BookingBug

But while it is easy for customers, from a retailer perspective it is complicated to co-ordinate and schedule multiple services, times, staff and customers across different retail locations.

Shoosmith said the handful of basic booking systems on the market have not been created to handle a range of variables or data security requirements.

"How many stores does a retailer have? How many services do they offer? How do they sync bookings with employees’ individual calendars?  How do you manage real-time availability being booked across multiple channels, including online, via mobile, in person on the shop floor and over the phone through the contact centre?" said Shoosmith, detailing some of the potential variables. "Dealing with complex nationwide – and even worldwide – implementations is something BookingBug now has years of experience in."

CEO of BookingBug, Glenn Shoosmith

BookingBug has been built using JavaScript toolset as an open platform so retailers can seamlessly integrate the solution into existing CRM, POS and eCommerce platforms using the vendor's APIs.

"Additionally, our Developer Toolkit enables a retailer's in-house developers to build and integrate their own bespoke solutions on top of our core platform, if that’s how they prefer to work."

And John Lewis' Ambler said it was BookingBug's specific skill set which attracted the retailer to work with BookingBug. "This wasn’t a bolt on to a consultancy service or niche within a larger software division, this was what they do."

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