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25 June, 2020 - 08:03 By Tony Quested

Free appointment booking offers High Street the kiss of life

Cambridge entrepreneurs whose appointment booking software is already a global winner are offering a free service to small independent retail outlets to help revive the High Street as it edges nervously out of COVID lockdown. 

Consumers can use the company’s software to book a visit to small shops and stores at no charge – instantly beating the queues and blues until restrictions such as social distancing are completely lifted. 

Cambridge business 10to8, steered by serial technology entrepreneur Matthew Cleevely and managing director Richard Hills, has put a tentative timeline on the free service of October 1 for outlets with fewer than 10 staff across the UK and globally – but the free service will be extended for life to Cambridge-based customers.

Booking visits in advance lets customers shop safely with no queues, planned staff capacity and a ready-made record of historic bookings for contact tracing if required.

The company’s global appointment scheduling system 10to8 is used by over 100,000 businesses worldwide, from banks to hairdressers and from lawyers to universities. It is using its insights from around the world to help businesses cope with the backlash of COVID-19.

Cleevely said: “The High Street is under immense pressure. Whilst many shops have reopened, consumers are still nervous about going out. In the US small shops have embraced pre-booked appointments to reassure customers of both safety and the low risks of a queue and the UK has caught on fast.

“10to8 has seen from its data that as ​lockdown started many retail bookings moved online and in-store bookings  – such as dress fittings, personal shopping etc. – all but disappeared.

“In the UK, bookings stopped altogether but now shops are seeing a huge demand for booked appointments for store visits. While the free offer is open to all small outlets, as defined, up to October 1 we are doing even more for Cambridge-based outlets. As 10to8 is based in our home town and we want to support our community we’re going to be making the system for small retail businesses based here free forever.”

Cleevely says scheduling appointments has worked for sectors with limited capacity for years: Think restaurants, hair salons or your mortgage appointment. 10to8 is now seeing appointment scheduling being used across the retail main street of the US and on the High Street of the UK.

By booking slots suitable space in a shop can be planned in advance to match socially distanced capacity; booking appointments in advance allows customers to arrive at an allocated slot knowing the store is open and ready to serve them.

Businesses have the advantage of being able to assemble the precise number of staff to cope with demand on any given day based on the level of advanced bookings.

And should a customer or staff member fall ill with suspected coronavirus it is easier to track who they might have been in touch with if the outlet has a log of who has visited their store.

“This is a great opportunity for us to help small shops and stores get back on their feet and help consumers shop with confiden​ce,” said founder Cleevely.

MD Hills added that 10to8 was even seeing museums and art galleries taking bookings to help manage visitors.

Current clients worldwide include health clinics, universities, banks, beauty salons, retail franchises and even alpaca farmers. Brands in the customer base include Expedia, Yale University, Accenture, The Financial Times and many others.

10to8 was developed to rid the world of wasted time. It automatically schedules bookings, gets businesses online and eliminates no-shows through smart communications. It boasts of taking the wasted time spent managing the average appointment down from 10 minutes of scheduling hell to eight seconds of simplicity.

The research by the 10to8 team is a massive bonus: It aims to inform and provide learning opportunities from different sectors and countries. 

10to8 gathers aggregate and anonymous bookings data from business customers. No private individuals’ data is ever used – nor can it be accessed by the company’s analysts. “We can never see what appointments are for or any information on the staff or clients who have bookings,” said Hills.

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