Updated: May 15, 2020
Introducing the Digital Queue for managing crowds in shops and government offices as we ease to level 3
After more than two months of lockdown to flatten the curve on the spread of the corona virus pandemic, South Africans are expected to flock into retail shops as the government moves the lockdown to level 3. The anticipated large crowds will inadvertently compromise the social distancing protocol that is still required to reduce the rate of infections in the country. Such crowds are also expected to overwhelm shopping centres and shops since they do not have adequate personnel for crowd control for the levels expected. This puts shops at risk of uncontrollable crowds storming into the shops and possibly resorting to looting. The risk is even higher for liquor retailers given that alcohol sales were not permitted during the lockdown and long queues and waiting may prove difficult for most drinkers itching for a drop of their favourite drink. To lower the risks shops must think of ways to limit the number of people inside and closer to the shop at any given time. Ideally, shopping centres and shops should ration the time for accessing their premises to have a better chance of controlling the crowds as the groups are smaller.
This is the solution provided by the digital queue app which lets people queue for available time slots to shopping centres and shops. The app requires shops to record a schedule for accessing the premises in terms of time slots in a day with a number of people allowed for each time slot. Shoppers can then choose a slot that is available and convenient for them to shop. Once the slot reaches the capacity as indicated by the shopping centre or shop it can not be chosen and the shopper must choose the next available and convenient slot.
The app then shows the q_card which indicates the time and shop that the shopper queued for. The q_card contains dynamic text indicating queue status for the shopper as 'BOOKED' before the time slot, 'ADMIT' during the time slot and 'PASSED' after the time slot. Also, the queue status text changes colour to green and becomes larger during the time slot for easy identification by access control personnel.
Importantly, the text of the shop branch or mall also dynamically changes to ensure that the q_card is used at the right place. It is not possible to change the colour of the q_card manually and therefore the green colour should be used as the guaranteed reference for admitting a customer.
The app provides benefits to the shops, shoppers as well as government authorities. Shops have a manageable situation with regard to crowd control and the risk of overcrowding and possibly looting is markedly reduced. The painstaking experience of queuing for hours is eased for shoppers as people only travel to the shops closer to their timeslot. This reduces the number of people in a given area thus making it possible to institute social distancing and the required hygiene protocol. Also, should a case be identified it becomes easy for the shopper to retrace the places recently visited and people who have accessed such places can be easily contacted.
A case for restaurants
Restaurants have been one of the hardest hit businesses by the lockdown. With the digital queue restaurants can start selling takeaways with minimum headaches on queuing and crowds. Even better, restaurants can avail their menus on the app and let customers pre-order and join queue to pickup at the right time. Also, the booking feature of the app can help restaurants make a case for limited seating, say a third of normal capacity, for each time slot. This can be gradually increased while observing the measures in place and therefore help restaurants get back to their feet.
In situations where shoppers do not have smartphones physical cards can be issued while recording them in the app to ensure the prescribed capacity is not exceeded. These cards will have to be issued away from the premises and ideally far in advance of the time slot to the shopping centre. A simple example are people issuing cards in public transport nodes with clearly marked time slots and shops that the shopper can access. In either case shoppers are aware of the time at which they need to go to the shopping centre and/or shop and will therefore not present at the venue before the allocated time slot.
The digital queue does purport to remove every challenge that may arise as the country eases to lower levels of the lockdown but rather provides a solution to minimise the challenges. A lot of proactive thinking is required from shopping centres and shops but with crowd groups distributed across the day, the headache is reduced.