After talking to managers at stores in Lenox Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in Southeast, we learned that retail stores face two primary problems: either there are too many customers for the limited store capacity created by social distancing guidelines or stores lack customers altogether. Since the start of the pandemic, retail is facing the largest decline on record with a CNN estimating a 8.7% decrease in sales during March alone. Since consumer spending and retail comprise 70% of U.S. economic growth according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, we wanted to find a safe way to encourage customers to return to retail stores, while preventing lines.
What it does
Sesame is a mobile app that benefits both consumers and corporations by allowing customers to reserve a timeslot for entry at retail stores for rewards. Consumers gain guaranteed entrance to stores upon arrival, B2C rewards, and confidence that their health is prioritized. Customers can enjoy features such as sanitation ratings, scheduling calendars, and seed rewards. Corporations can open without door attendants, automatically track crowd density, eliminate long lines, and galvanize new customer interest. Features like automatic people counting and QR code entry will help to maintain a safe store capacity without a door attendant.
How we built it
We designed the app in Figma which is a digital prototyping tool. This allowed us to make the UI for Sesame so that we can demonstrate how consumers and businesses will use our app.
Challenges we ran into
One of the challenges that we ran into was in considering the ability of all stores to use the app in order to determine the number of people in their stores. We were mainly working on using the automatic capacity counter feature for larger department stores or stores in the mall. These larger stores would have security cameras and struggle to place attendants at multiple entrances. However, we realized that some retail stores do not have security cameras. In response, we decided to create a manual count feature for stores without preexisting security cameras in order to allow attendants to keep track of crowd density and limit reservations if neccesary.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We’re really proud of our app’s ability to eliminate attendants at the door. The automatic capacity counting feature using live security camera feed can be combined with QR code entry with a reservation in order to enter. Currently, stores have attendants at the door who manually count the number of people entering and serve as a bouncer. Large stores have even closed certain exits to limit the number of attendants required; limiting the number of entrances and exits could create dangerous traffic flow by placing people in close proximity to each other. We think that our app is a great way for large department stores to avoid using attendants and utilize more entrances and exits.
What we learned
Through our research, we learned that there are two different problems for stores: Social distancing measures are generating long lines at certain stores, while customers are sparse at other stores. Overcrowded stores pose a significant risk for transmission of COVID-19, but undercrowded stores risk bankruptcy. Sesame simultaneously solves both ends of the spectrum. We also learned that managers at companies like Guess, L'occitane, and UGG are interested in offering generous benefits to customers through reward platforms in order to tackle these problems.
What's next for Sesame Mobile App
Next, we hope to release it on the app store so that businesses and customers can begin to benefit from Sesame. We will launch a beta version for use at Lenox Mall in Atlanta and if successful will expand to other retailers and to major cities in the US like New York, Los Angeles, Houston, etc. Besides word of mouth, we plan to expand our consumer base with more advertising and referral codes to gain benefits for inviting their friends to the app. We will also release a Google Play version of Sesame to reach a larger consumer base around the US. After successfully implementing the retail version of our app we will create spinoffs of the Sesame app by creating Sesame for schools, leisure, fitness, parks, and personal care services.