How to stay in business during the COVID-19 crisis?

In this time of worldwide crisis, business is struggling. Many shops are closed by the government. Those who are not, will have to maintain a safe environment. For their customers, but also for themselves.

We ourselves were also struggling with our business. We don’t want our very small shop to be open for everybody. With 3 people of more, it already gets crowded. Social distance is almost impossible. So we decided to close the shop and started to think about alternatives.

One of our clients suggested: “Why don’t you open the shop by appointment?” And that is what we went for. If you are looking for a solution to keep your customers coming, this can make you happy.

Open by appointment

First of all you have to think it all through. Ask yourself at least these questions:

  • How long will a customer be in your shop (by average)?
  • How can we keep social distance (if not possible, don’t do this!)?
  • How do we keep all the others without an appointment out?
  • How do customers make the appointments?

The first three questions are for you to answer. The last one can be answered by a very nice plugin!

Appointments plugin

The easiest way to have your customers make appointments with you, is to use a dedicated plugin on your website. There are many appointment plugins available on the WordPress plugin repository. I decided this one would meet all our demands: Simply Schedule Appointments.

Simply Schedule Appointments has a 5 star rating on WordPress.org, and 4000+ active installs. Just install it the way you are used to install a new plugin and activate the plugin. Do you need more? You can always buy the pro version for more options, like unlimited webhooks, take payments with PayPal or Stripe, and send email and SMS reminders.

How to set it all up?

Assuming you have already decided what kind of appointments you would like your customers to make, you can start setting up the plugin.

On your Dashboard, you now have the option Appointments. You start by creating an appointment type. Click on Appointments -> Appointments types to create your first appointment type.

Click on “Add new” or “CREATE A NEW APPOINTMENT TYPE”. You will get this screen:

You start with the basics:

  • Name for the appointment type
  • Duration of the appointment
  • Duration in minutes, hours, days or weeks
  • Color of the label

After the basics, you click on “Availability” to proceed to the Availability screen.

Choose the start times. Next you can click on every block in the schedule to include or exclude that time slot for your appointments. You can also add more rows, to include the early or late hours.

Done with the availability? Click on “Scheduling options” for the next settings.

  • Appointment timezone. Choose for locked if you run a local business.
  • Appointment buffer. Do you need some free time between appointments, for cleaning up for example? You can set the time here.
  • Notice required. Set up the minimum notice duration required when booking
  • Per day limit.

Next step is to set up your customer information.

Check the information you want your customers to submit, and make it optional or required. The Notes field can be useful for customers to leave some extra information are ask a question in advance.

Last step in setting up an appointment type is settings up the notifications.

Four types of notifications can be sent. Make sure you first save the appointment type before editing the notifications. Edit the notifications to your liking. You can use text and template tags you can find at the bottom of the edit screen.

Save the newly created appointment type. Now you can start using the appointment application form on your website.

Booking form front end

To show the appointment booking form to your visitors, you have two options. At the bottom of the appointment type edit screen, you can find the shortcode to show the form in any page or post. Copy the shortcode and paste it in the page or post you want to show the form on. You can also add the form to a post or page using the block Appointment booking form.

Publish the post or page and now you are ready to receive bookings from your visitors!

Booking form on the front end:

After selecting the date, the customer can select the time slot:

Finally, the customer can fill in the required information and book the appointment:

After booking the appointment, the admin and the customer will receive a notice of the appointment. The customer can change and cancel the appointment afterwards.

Of course this plugin has more settings. Click on Appointments -> Settings to adjust the general settings of the plugin. Like the email address you want to receive the bookings on, date and time format, various styles and more. Adjust them to your liking and test the booking form thoroughly. Also test the appointment cancelling option, to make sure everything works.

Simply Schedule Appointments is a very nice plugin. It is very easy to set up, works out of the box, and looks very good on your website. Highly recommended!

Final thoughts

These are challenging times. The whole world is confronted with a phenomenon we yet have no cure for. We can only try to stay healthy, by avoiding any risk of getting infected or infect somebody else.  To stay in business, we have to think out of the box. We have to adjust and move on. For us personally, this solution is the best we can offer our customers. And with the help of this plugin, we can stay in business and our customers can buy the goods they need, in a safe way.

 

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