Bookable Experiences

Bookable Experiences 1920 1300 Chute Gerdeman

As consumers, we largely understood the requirements to achieve these “perks” as well as the benefits that came with them. We knew we had to be aware of when and where a limited-edition sneaker might “drop” and that we had to have our place in line (be it physically or digitally) to get that hot new shoe. We understood that to get preferential treatment while flying, or when checking in to that hotel, or even while shopping our favorite retailers and brands, we had to earn that status by showing consistent loyalty and accruing the points that demonstrated it. Or, in some cases, we understood that we could simply buy our way into that “access.”

To be clear, “earned” status wasn’t always the driver behind these themes in every case. For more “every day” scenarios like booking a hair appointment or pedicure, there was a general understanding that there might be a wait time to get in, but that it wasn’t unreasonable in most cases and that you could generally access the experiences and services you needed without a tremendous amount of hassle.

However, we’re quickly learning through the course of the current COVID-19 crisis that this was the world of yesterday. The world of business as we understood it previously. These perks went over and above what we might consider “regular” service. It was something special. Something extra. With businesses shuttered across the country, extraneous spending being curbed in large part, and personal services being postponed and foregone due to stay-at-home orders, we believe “access” will take on a whole new meaning as we start to emerge from the crisis and gradually get back to business.

After months of sheltering-in-place, we anticipate a heightened demand by consumers for a wide variety of services, products, and experiences. Of course, our desire for luxury goods won’t soon fade away but we may find a backlog for more every day products and services as businesses start to come back online. Who’ll be first in line for that hair appointment that feels overdue? Whose nails will look great in the first few weeks after we no longer have to social distance? Who’s able to get in before the rush? Who’ll get through the doors at their favorite retailer or boutique to try on and swoop up the season’s newest looks? How many days will we have to wait for a great scoop of artisan ice-cream at our favorite shop b/c the line is out the door once they re-open? Will we be able to walk in and get a table or a seat at the bar at our favorite local restaurant or book a much needed travel escape or will it simply be hard to gain access because we’re all thinking, and doing, the same thing at the same time? Will brands that we’ve come to trust be caught trying to keep up with the demand?

In response to these questions we believe we’ll see two emerging trends begin to take shape and influence our return to retail once the crisis begins to soften and consumers make their way back to shopping, dining, pampering, and traveling.

The A-List Approach to Access

As folks return to work and play, we’ll see a desire to get out of that “work-from-home” gear and to start expressing their style again. As that happens, we believe there will be a set of customers who will want to procure the newest products before the masses or make absolute certain they get early access to the personal care services they’ve been putting off while making their way through lock-down.

Take the concept of what Southwest Airlines offers to customers. They’ve long been a model for standard best-in-class travel options for their customers, but Southwest also offers those customers who don’t fly frequently the ability to easily pay-to-play and improve their travel experience with each individual trip. Customers can pay $15 for EarlyBird status and be automatically checked-into their flights 12 hours before general boarding to get a better boarding position. Customers who are even more motivated can buy Business Select status for their flight and be guaranteed an A1-A15 boarding position and the ability to breeze through the security checkpoint quicker than the masses.

Imagine these principles applied to customers booking their next cut and color, their next manicure, waxing, getting the latest look from their favorite boutique, or grabbing the newest gadget or latest mobile phone release. Nike already does a great job of this with their Nike+ Member Benefits. Members can access products before they are widely available to the public through all of Nike’s digital channels, as well as gain access to a Shop that is for Members only. They also enjoy exclusive benefits and access to special events when they shop in Nike’s stores. We suspect that customers would pay a premium, similar to the manner in which they do for Southwest Airlines benefits, if they knew they could jump to the front of the line when they are trying to get back in with their stylist or if they knew they could get into their favorite clothing boutique days before it’s reopened to the general public.

Thought starters that might spark a creative idea for your business:

  • Are there new offers or benefits that would give your shoppers premium access to your business? Up the membership opportunity for your offer and develop promotions and packages that deliver on shopper expectations and make them feel special.
  • Develop a Soft Opening strategy for shoppers that are eager, and demanding, immediate access and offer up something uniquely special to the new experience.
  • Could retailers & restauranteurs adopt member-friendly spaces in their physical locations, similar to airline lounges? Perhaps timed and/or pre-planned windows when members are invited in smaller groups to access special product and new collections.
  • Rethink store layout to accommodate new social distancing practices. Allow for personal shopping zones and curated collections for those pre-shop options to aid in the bookable appointment experience.
  • As queueing evolves and potentially becomes a thing of the past, the time might be right for newly imagined ways to flow shoppers through spaces. The old school impulse lanes of generic stuff might be replaced with more meaningful and relevant pods of member-focused merchandise.


Even after restrictions begin to ease, safety-conscious consumers with lasting social distancing mindsets could drive major shifts in store layout, leaving behind outdated queues and crowded store mentalities.  

Appointment-Based Shopping

The current crisis has highlighted the challenges of procuring critically needed products and supplies for the country’s most vulnerable and needy customers. Already we’ve seen the likes of Target, Aldi, Safeway, Costco, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods create dedicated shopping times and hours for seniors and especially vulnerable customers to allow them to get access to freshly stocked inventory before the general population.

This is not just about special shopping hours for those in need. We believe, at least for a period of time, there will be mixed feelings and trepidation about new norms as consumers make their way back into social settings and shopping outings. We’ve seen the beauty category lead the way in leveraging technology to connect with shoppers and power interaction while most stores have closed their doors. Chanel’s beauty boutique Atelier Beauté is promoting the ability for customers to get 1:1 make-up advice and skin chats for $18 to $20 per session. Credo, clean beauty retailer, is enabling customers to connect directly to store sales associates via their e-commerce site for 30-second chats. Associates provide advice on clean alternatives to existing beauty products a customer might have in their regimen. These experts will drop customers directly on to specific product web pages as they make recommendations, aiding the shopper just as they would in the store.

Brands will need to consider the new realities and the potential for customers to have optimistic but cautious attitudes about returning to retail as they re-open their stores. We believe that offering customers specific appointment times will increase shopper confidence even more if, during those times, there will be a limited number of customers allowed in the store. In addition, we believe this will help bring customers back faster and also fuel loyalty and repeat visits.

Thought starters that might spark a creative idea for your business:

  • Consider how many shoppers should be allowed in your stores at any given time as we consider CDC and WHO guidelines on how to appropriately come out of lockdown.
  • Leverage owned digital channels and tools as well as social communications to let customers arrange for a specific time they plan visit stores.
  • More importantly, be prepared to capitalize on those pre-booked appointments and what your owned data tells you about each customer that’s coming in to effectively personalize the experience and product/service recommendations to them specifically.
  • Enable the ability for customers to pre-shop so that they make the most efficient and effective use of their time while they are in a brand’s space.
  • Consider bookable group experiences along with individual ones. Boutiques and cafes and smaller businesses might adopt an entirely new model of “renting” their experience to groups/parties on a scheduled business. Think of it as the “AirBnB” of retail experiences.

At the end of this, we do believe that business will return. Generally, history has shown that consumers tend to have short memories. Add to that, our belief that there will be pent up desire to return to being more social and we’ll see a return to shopping and dining out (albeit possibly at a more gradual pace) as the pandemic eases and life begins to return to a closer form of “normal.”

More from the Preparing for Next series

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Consumers are looking for ways to make trips outside the home as efficient as possible. We look at three specific opportunities for evolution as the new reality of retail takes shape.

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