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Much has been said about technology driving a wedge between retailers and their customers. But it can also personalize customer service, enhance the shopping experience and increase customer loyalty and sales.

That’s the rationale behind TimeTrade, the online appointment scheduling software now in place at retailers including Sprint, J.Crew and Best Buy. The 12-year-old company has gone “from being a scheduler to a full-service customer engagement platform,” says Mike Puglia, vice president of marketing. “We help companies bridge the divide between their digital and physical worlds.”

“If a customer goes into a store and gets good, personal service from a sales associate, they will be more engaged in the experience and tend to buy more.” Puglia says. “We want to start the process by helping them make an appointment for service in advance of going to the store.”

Increased sales
Retailers integrate TimeTrade into their operations in a number of ways. Best Buy’s Geek Squad enables customers to click for an appointment, detecting the type of device a customer is using and showing them the nearest store that offers the services they need.

“Not everyone needs the personalized experience,” Puglia says. “But many people do like having it available in areas like home decorating, wedding and bridal as well as electronics.”

If you purchase a phone from Sprint, for instance, the TimeTrade system “asks if you want to pick it up in the store, schedule an appointment and whether you want it to transfer your personal contacts so it will be all ready for you,” he says. “Sprint even has it on their blog and Twitter feed in order to do e-mail blasts and to tap into social media.”

In addition to getting customers back into the store, TimeTrade is also a good way for retailers to ascertain why people are coming, which can help them further personalize the visit. Scheduling appointments also helps with customer flow, Puglia says, noting that this is especially important for stores that get particularly hectic over the holidays.

Softgoods retailers are focusing on greater personal service. “At retailers like David Jones you can book a 30-minute appointment with a stylist or personal shopper. At J.Crew you can book an appointment for bridal services,” he says. “These are high-touch interactions that require personal service.
“The higher-end softgoods companies who pre-schedule appointments have seen spending go up an average of $100 or more,” Puglia says.

Analytic capabilities
TimeTrade recently conducted a survey among retail executives and “approximately 80 percent said personal interaction with sales associates results in a 25- to 50-percent increase in purchases,” Puglia says. “People are becoming more accustomed to this type of in-store engagement.”

A number of TimeTrade’s retail partners are incorporating the system “in their e-mail marketing and in their ads or on a popup when someone has been looking at a high-value item for more than 20 seconds,” Puglia says. “It helps provide a great experience for customers.”

The company is planning to add analytics and data measurement tools in the future. “It’s kind of the last mile — the blind spot all retailers have,” he says. “Retailers know how to measure sales, coupons and promotions. But for the most part they don’t really know about customer interactions aside from spot checks or mystery shoppers. We’re working on tracking interactions with customers and how good they were.”