Office Depot Finds Success Two Ways with Virtual Queues

Through the use of QLess virtual line technology, Office Depot boosted revenue and prepared itself for retail's return to normalcy.

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Need to Know

  • Office Depot first deployed QLess, a remote mobile interactive queueing platform, to 600 stores in September 2019 to gather more data about customer habits and provide shoppers with more freedom.
  • QLess lets shoppers check into a virtual line and receive real-time alerts about when their turn is ready.
  • Since then, Office Depot has experimented with sending out discount codes to waiting shoppers, finding that shoppers spend one dollar every minute while waiting. Upsells also increased by 30%, and time spent in Office Depot’s app also massively increased.
  • With physical distancing becoming the norm in retail, QLess also addressed the new retail normal for Office Depot before COVID even hit.

Analysis

It’s one thing when a business partners with a new technology startup and finds success in the areas they wanted to address—increased shopper engagement, higher revenue, and more data collected on customer habits. That’s what Office Depot sought to do when it first partnered with QLess, a “remote mobile interactive queueing” company. But as the COVID pandemic continues to shake up retail, Office Depot found itself as an early adopter of a solution that set them up perfectly for retail’s new normal. 

Office Depot first announced its partnership with QLess one year ago in September 2019, rolling out virtual line management to over 600 stores throughout the U.S. QLess works like this: customers can download the QLess app and check the status of a line at the print and copy shop in an Office Depot location near them with the ability to virtually place themselves in the queue. Customers can also enter the virtual queue in-person by signing up through a kiosk or tablet in-store, receiving alerts as they get closer to their turn at the counter. This adoption is total—every customer who comes in must place themselves in the virtual queue. 

At the time of launch, Office Depot’s chief retail officer Kevin Moffat said, “It’s never been easier and more efficient for our customers to use print and copy services.” 

The benefits for the customer are pretty obvious at first glance: understanding just how long it will take you to complete your errand. Office Depot and QLess might say you’ll wait five minutes in line, or 20, which is especially helpful for those on a tight schedule. The real difference virtual queue technology provides is what happens while a customer waits. 

“What’s unique about QLess is the virtual tether we create,” says Charlie Meyer, VP of sales for QLess. “Our learning algorithm figures out a wait time for each person. It’s not a static algorithm that says everyone is just five minutes give or take, because that’s not reality. We factor in real-world data points to create a forecasted wait time. That creates this virtual tether to shop while you wait.”

The power of virtual queues

Meyer explains that retailers like Office Depot often do live audience behavior testing with QLess technology, sending out promotional codes and discounts to customers who have entered into a virtual line. That way, the retailers can still generate revenue and the shopper can both be in line and maybe find a few items they need. According to Meyer, customers spend a dollar a minute while they wait in their virtual queue. 

“Where it gets really powerful is that it’s interactive,” he continues. “If you get in line, and you get a text that you’re ready, you can actually move yourself back. You can move back 10 minutes and keep shopping if you want to.”

Another big benefit of QLess comes simply from its intended purpose. Brands have the option to use QLess’ APIs and integrate the virtual queue technology straight into their own branded app, like Office Depot did with its own app. That means that when people use the technology through a branded app, they have to look at their phone fairly often to stay updated on their status in the queue, whether it’s through SMS notification or through the app itself. 

“The average time spent in the app is around 22 minutes,” says Meyer. “If retailers bake QLess into their app, they’ll get huge amounts of facetime.”

Virtual queues also contribute to better understanding the psychology of both customer and employee habits. Upsells at Office Depo’s print centers increased 30% because employees didn’t feel pressured by a looming huge physical line behind customers. They had the chance to slow down and chat through a customer;s needs, thereby increasing the likelihood of finding an in-house offering for them. 

QLess also offered Office Depot a better look into customer purpose and walkaways. When someone checks into a line, then turns around and leaves because it’s too long, Office Depot now knows why that customer left. When customers use the QLess app itself to check in somewhere, they have the option to include the purpose of their visit—a huge boon for retailers who want to understand why someone may be shopping in-store and what they want to buy. 

“One day, our team went to an Office Depot and sat there with an exec at lunchtime,” says Meyer. “We watched the walkaways, and were shocked to see how many customers came in and then left.”

“With QLess, we extended their prime times. If the retailer is busy during lunch, because of QLess and the ability to let customers go outside, make phone calls, buy other items, or anything else, we’re able to keep people in line because of the virtual tether. Above all, the retailer will see more people.”

However, the retail ecosystem of just one year ago is very different compared to today’s. With the advent of physical distancing, the ability to enter virtual queues and understand just how busy a retailer may be before actually heading to the store is important knowledge for customers. Office Depot partnered with QLess to increase engagement and decrease walkaway customers, but what they ended up getting was much more. 

The option to join a virtual queue has become a selling point for many customers, and on the other side of the spectrum, many retailers are now considering some kind of virtual queue technology almost table stakes. 

Some of the biggest brands in the world are looking to QLess to power their own solutions. Meyer says QLess partnership inquiries quadrupled during COVID and huge new partnerships are looming. Walmart was one retailer mentioned, as Meyer noted that QLess will be rolling out to 120 Money Center locations in Walmarts across the U.S. 

With Office Depot’s success coming in both pre-COVID retail environments as well as during the height of the pandemic’s effect on retail’s return, Meyer is confident virtual queue technology is here to stay. 

“There needs to be a pain point for QLess,” he says, “Social distancing—we’ve been doing that since we started, so obviously it’s a good fit for us. But where we shine is where it’s a high dollar value for the walkaway and where transaction times are longer.”

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