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O2 offers the queuing, appointment and motion tools that helped it open its stores to all retailers

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Mobile operator O2 is looking to help retailers get back down to business as lockdown eases with a suite of mobile tools that can help manage socially distanced retail.

Virtual queuing, staff scheduling and appointment booking technologies have proved so successful in allowing O2 to reopen its retail stores, that these solutions are being offered to a range of O2 customers including retailers, supermarkets, stadia and healthcare businesses.

O2 has been using a virtual queuing system to reinforce social distancing measures since it reopened on June 15. The software, supplied by retail technology company Qudini, allows customers walking into O2’s stores to join a virtual queue and receive real-time text message updates on their position in the queue, a wait-time estimate and when an O2 advisor is ready for their one-to-one appointment. 

Imogen Wethered, CEO of Qudini explains: “Customers are worried about how they can maintain social distancing whilst shopping. Until the retail sector alleviates these concerns it is unlikely that we will see a return to pre-lockdown levels of footfall. Our virtual queuing technology can help to address these safety concerns and bring shoppers back.”

Workforce scheduling automation is another area that O2 Business believes will help retailers rebuild and reopen. The software, provided by Rotageek, helps to automate labour scheduling in order to free up associates for higher value, people-focused work.  The platform fully manages the staff scheduling workflow, using real-time customer data to create optimised rotas for stores.

The algorithm takes into account operational, legal and financial rules alongside employee preferences and availability. Rotageek optimises schedules by creating and assigning shifts in tandem, generating millions of combinations of schedules and only proposing a final schedule where every shift is assigned to a worker. The technology is already being rolled out across retailer Gap’s UK and EU stores following a successful trial that saw rota accuracy improve by 14%. 

Chris McCullough, CEO of Rotageek, says: “Too many businesses are still using time-consuming manual processes to make rotas. As retailers plan to adapt their operating models, automation can help them to improve profitability and deliver improvements in everything from meeting customer demand to conversions, basket size and customer satisfaction. More than that, In the unusual circumstances we’re facing, it’s critical that companies work collaboratively with staff to help them with their personal challenges. By offering them input into their schedules, allowing them to swap, change and pick up shifts, retailers can support them in managing demands like childcare or family commitments. I truly believe that how companies treat their employees during this time will have a profound impact on their long-term success.”

As retailers are reopening, Rotageek offers the ability for its customers to prevent the spread of infection through teams by automatically splitting them into cohorts. The detailed intra-day task scheduling functionality means you can designate who is covering specific tasks during any given period, a feature that is proving useful in tracking new duties and roles like enhanced cleaning practices and capacity monitoring. Talk to O2 to find out more about how Digital Scheduling will change due to Covid-19. 

Finally, to ensure businesses are armed with the necessary insight to manage the reopening of the economy, O2 is also offering optional access to O2 Motion – the big data and insights arm of the business to its Business customers, a powerful tool to support their planning. O2 Motion helps organisations understand the location, movement and demographic profile of people across the UK. It provides aggregated, anonymised insight that protects individual privacy.

Since the start of the pandemic O2 Motion has been supporting government agencies, transport bodies, train operating companies and academic institutions by supplying daily insight on population movement, split by age bracket and gender. This has helped us understand how COVID-19 is spreading and can help businesses plan for the reopening of the economy. 

Jo Bertram, Managing Director at O2 Business, concludes: “Digital has been disrupting business models for decades, but COVID-19 has turbocharged the changes we are dealing with. We believe that innovative technologies like virtual queuing and staff scheduling can help businesses reopen in a safe, socially distant way that builds customer confidence. Combined with connectivity, the latest devices and data insights, these solutions can help Rebuild Britain.”

The move comes as the UK Government announced a relaxation of the two metre social distancing rule in England from 4 July, the same date when other high street businesses like pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be able to re-open.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, welcomes the move: “Retailers have worked hard to effectively implement social distancing measures during the pandemic and the safety of staff and customers will continue to be their main priority. The reduction will support shops, which have faced limits to footfall – and therefore spending – as a result of the distancing measures.”

However, consumers have expressed concern over returning to stores without adequate social distancing measures. A survey earlier this month by Appointed found that 79% of people are more likely to visit shops that limit the number of people in store while the availability of hand sanitiser (84%) and capacity management (71.5%) are shoppers main requirements to feeling safe in store.

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