Did you ever think you have to queue up for hours to enter a store? We didn’t.

COVID-19 is not only putting a strain on our healthcare services but also changes the way we can access public infrastructure and services. This includes grocery shopping, pharmaceutical services and other food or non-food services.

To contain the spread of the virus we are all actively practicing social distancing. Social distancing (the act of keeping 2 metres apart) has been proven to slow down the spread of the virus, yet local stores fail to completely adhere to this government guideline. Stores face the challenge of controlling the number of customers inside their facility but also outside their facility to ensure that the social distancing requirements are met and prevent the spread of the virus.

The current answer to that challenge is to restrict access to stores, by using a queue system and a guard controlling access. This addresses the problem of people inside the facility but not outside the facility. Tightly packed queues are exposing customers to just as much risk inside as they would be outside. Long waiting queues in front of stores are a regular result, as well as store losses due to reductions in store capacity (1) (2) (3).

This creates additional challenges for people like elderly people who cannot stand for too long, people with disabilities, parents who have to take care of their children or people who are especially vulnerable.

Long queues are one of the main reasons for store losses in the EU countries, for example in UK (4). E-commerce is one of the main winners in this battle. If this trend gets established, many stores - especially the smaller ones - will soon disappear from our cities.

A few supermarket chains have adopted individual ticketing or digital queuing systems already (5) (6) (7). However these solutions are proprietary or only target a few specific supermarkets or cities, thus making the service still unavailable to most and difficult to scale.

Other existing booking solutions are too complex, specialized for certain services (e.g. sightseeing, restaurants, etc.) and/or rely on the final user owning at least a smartphone to book their slot or to show the ticket upon entrance. This excludes members of the society, especially those over 55+ years old from to accessing the service (8) (9).

My Slots is an extremely easy to use digital time-slot booking platform for customers and non-digitalized businesses.

My Slots is a web-app that allows local stores to define time slots with predefined capacities which can be booked by the customers online. The service provides additional features such as dedicated time slots for the elderly and discounts for visiting stores off-peak. All of that in a matter of minutes.

On the customer side, any person with access to the internet can book available time slots online in advance. The booking code is accessible on the smartphone users (QR-Code) or can be printed out or transcribed manually on a piece of paper if no smartphone is available. The booking code is checked by the stores upon customer entrance with regular consumer hardware. A regular PC with webcam, Tablet or smartphone with internet access is sufficient.

We’ve designed My Slots with simplicity in mind to be easily adopted by businesses and customers in a very short time, to have a substantial impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, the service is designed to be usable with absolute minimum infrastructure requirements and focuses on the basic function. For customers, the service will also be available without any registration requirements.

The service can be used by stores as a mandatory requirement for entering locations or to provide a “fast-track” opportunity to avoid queuing.

My Slots will help millions of people to avoid the challenges and risks of waiting in massive queues - every day

  • Eliminate the need to queue
  • Decrease the chances of contamination
  • Decrease extensive use of security to oversee queues
  • Allow for safe business continuity, when all shops will be allowed to reopen again but social distancing will still be enforced.
  • Encourage customers to still go shopping physically, without being discouraged at the thought of long queues.
  • Encourage/Incentivize customers to plan their visits, avoiding formation of crowds. Customers can see the number of remaining available spots at a certain time and they can choose a less-crowded slot as a consequence.
  • Reduce peaks at certain times of the day with the need for the shop to react with additional personnel
  • Will allow us to slowly open up other infrastructure/services (e.g. sports facilities, public infrastructure, etc.) in a controlled way

#EUvsVIRUS will push My Slots to a new stage

The idea of My Slots gathered an amazing, interdisciplinary and motivated team from all across the EU and World to move forward. We now have the critical roles covered (technical, business/PM, marketing, design/branding)

  • Screened existing solutions and completed adequate market research and validation.
  • Produced a SWOT analysis.
  • Generated ideas that will be implemented quickly after the hackathon or that are in progress (e.g. no requirement to sign up/just email address without password, easy alphanumeric code in addition to QR code, to be inclusive of people without smartphone or supermarkets that don’t want to scan)
  • First functional version based on existing code-base demonstrated and features refined based on brainstorming on target customers and competition analysis
  • Brainstormed what it takes next to bring the service live, using expert feedback from the Mentors to develop a plan for the short and medium term
  • Created a nice video :)

The necessities in order to continue the project

  • Initial financial support to handle the required infrastructure (hosting, map-service, etc.)
  • Additional technical workforce to quickly bring the final product to market.
  • Customer engagement and support workforce to get new stores on board in a professional and dedicated way, and to answer any questions that arise.
  • Professional translations, to make it a truly European solution. The aim is to translate it into the languages of the countries that were most hit by the crisis (ES, IT, DE, UK, FR) within the first month. Other languages could be considered after a successful pilot phase in these countries.
  • Support visibility of the service to the general public

The value of your solution(s) after the crisis

  • Avoid shop closures due to lack of business (in turn caused by demotivated customers)
  • Avoid overcrowding at peak hours (which is anyway a vector for many other infections, not only COVID19); stores can plan and optimize the reception of visitors avoiding crowds near the entrance.
  • Stores could use the “reserved slots” to propose targeted, more efficient advertising.
  • An easier and calmer in-person shopping experience. Reduced risk of infections and arguments.
  • Encourage in-person shopping experience for selected population groups (e.g. with neurological disorders, agoraphobia, social anxiety, …)
  • Ability to plan one’s time, maximizing efficiency for essential shopping.
  • Keep our cities alive
  • Encourage more customers to the shop at non-peak hours through a discount scheme that could be easily included on the platform. Client punctuality can be included as a measure to obtain more rewards.
  • Extend the scope to other services where online booking could be beneficial

Business oportunities

At the current stage, the service is intended to help substantially during the COVID-19 crisis. An extended scope for specialized, complex scenarios is not intended for the first stage and depends on market adoption and usage.

To make the service sustainable, several payment models/options will be considered and analyzed further. A flexible payment model can be adopted based on store requirements.

Cost Model Customer - Pay per Use Store - Free for use Store - Pay per Use Store flatrate
Who pays Customer Free Store Store
Model Pay per use Free Pay per Use Monthly payment
Key Metrics Bookings Bookings Bookings -
Benefits Full Package Limited bookings per day Full Package Unlimited bookings
Costs Variable Free Variable Variable

Sources

1 - https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/03/827025344/walmart-to-limit-number-of-people-shopping-at-one-time-because-of-coronavirus?t=1587801203409

2 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/17/supermarkets-are-limiting-number-shoppers-one-time-temperature-checks-delivery-only-stores-may-follow/

3- https://www.qminder.com/cost-customer-service-wait-times/

4 - https://uk.fashionnetwork.com/news/Stock-issues-and-long-queues-cost-british-retailers-102bn-each-year,1099683.html#.XVKwKegzYuU

5 - https://www.e-coop.it/web/coop-lombardia/codacasa

6 - https://jefile.fr/

7 - https://www.ufirst.com/

8 - https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/us-global-mobile-consumer-survey-second-edition.pdf

9 - https://www.statista.com/statistics/956297/ownership-of-smartphones-uk/

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