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LCBO|Next’s response to COVID-19


InLine App

The Problem

When our team arrived at the LCBO|next lab at the beginning of May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was just a few months old, and we wanted to hit the ground running with a solution to some of the new challenges LCBO customers were facing.

At the time, only a few customers were allowed into stores at a time, meaning lineups outside of stores were the norm. In May, the average lineup length at our pilot store in Kitchener was a little over 13 minutes, and 7 customers long. Customers also wanted to spend less time in-store, due to the higher level of risk associated with enclosed spaces.

Long lineups & apprehensive customers

The staff inside were looking for new ways to help customers, but between the altered cadence of new customers entering the store, and regulations on staff interactions, the old model of customer service didn’t meet the requirements of the new state.

The role of customer service



Reduce wait times

At the time of development, average wait times during hours of operation were around 13 minutes at our pilot store, and similar at two other Kitchener liquor stores. This time spent in line meant that customers had a poorer experience and were likely less apt to drop into the LCBO again soon, except for larger purchases.


Reduce time in-store

Many of our customers expressed discomfort with spending time in-store, due to concerns of COVID-19, and the heightened risk of exposure in enclosed spaces. Most LCBO customers make product decisions at our stores after browsing available items - but were now less comfortable keeping up this pattern.


Create moments of delight

We recognized that we had an opportunity to not only reduce time spent in line but turn this period into an enjoyable addition to the shopping experience, meanwhile contributing to the LCBO customer engagement strategy.



Responsive Web-app


1 month (May 2020)

Team & Roles

Ankit Patel, Full Stack Developer

G. Deborah Maswi, UX Designer

Isaac Winters, Product Manager

Jonathan Cui, Full Stack Developer

Design decisions

There are two different views for the InLine app: the customer-facing app used by LCBO customers waiting in line and the staff-facing app used by LCBO store staff.

The customer-facing app allows customers to choose their preferred store location, search for products, and add them to a list. Once customers are happy with their list, they can confirm and transform their list of products into a shopping checklist.

Customer-facing app


To promote the app, we created a poster that is displayed at the storefront.


InLine posters at storefront


The staff-facing app allows store staff to see incoming orders. When staff has spare time in their day, the app allows them to pick orders for customers waiting in line, and bring them to the front of the store, so customers have to spend less time in the enclosed space. Our team aimed to create a simple interface for staff because we want the app to be convenient for them, especially during this difficult time.

Staff-facing app

Staff Flow.png

Since we were in a time crunch, we didn’t have much time to do user testing prior to development. However, that didn’t stop us from testing during the development phase. We found testing to be very useful because it helped us to test if the app fulfills its purpose and to find loopholes early on. 

Testing, testing, testing


From the testing, we found out that our customer-facing app lacked clarity on its purpose. Previously, we relied on the store's physical posters to explain what InLine is, but for first-time users, not all the features of the app were clear. To address the issue, our team created onboarding screens that highlight the app’s purpose and flow.

We were also able to refine detailed interactions within the app. As an example, we've implemented different states for the ‘add to list’ button, depending on the quantity chosen.

Group 210.png

Post-deployment, our team worked together with the store staff to continuously collect data and ask for feedback. We then noticed that asking staff to change the store code every day (which includes changing the store poster) adds unnecessary work, in addition to their core chores. Hence, we now allow staff to update their store code whenever they need it, whether they choose to do it weekly, monthly, or whenever they have free time.

We also found out that QR codes are not as accessible as links. Android phones don’t have a consistent method of scanning QR codes from phone to phone or version to version, while Apple users can use the built-in camera app. Of 4 beta testers using Android phones, none was sure how to process a QR code with their phone. In practice, most customers access the web-app through the link, which encouraged us to update the store posters. We switched from having the QR code as the focal point to emphasizing the web-app link.

Group 211.png


In building a new experience to serve staff, customers, and the goals of our organization, there are decisions made that require trade-offs in the value delivered to each group

The role of staff

One of the tradeoffs we made was between the strength of InLine’s value proposition and flexibility for customer service representatives. The initial idea of InLine was that customers outside would be able to submit orders to staff inside, who could then pick the orders and have them ready by the time the customer was allowed in the store. Before launch, however, concern was raised that the app, and the new processes which it dictated, could be helpful to staff in some circumstances, but in others, could add a higher workload to their already busy days. Our trial store in Kitchener is on the smaller side, and thus has a staff of 3 customer service representatives at a time. For one staff member to be tied up picking orders for customers the remaining 2 staff would be spread thin over the remainder of their duties.


The reverse of the issue is that without the promise that staff would collect their order, customers had significantly less incentive to use the app and submit their list. A secondary use case we had identified, focused on checking inventory and planning purchases, would have to be central to the app’s flows, and messaging used to invite customers to the app. Although this use case creates less obvious value, we believed it to be strong enough based on customer interviews that we were comfortable with putting it in the driver's seat.


We made the decision to leave the staff-side function flexible and thus adjusted the in-app and in-store messaging to reflect the leaner value proposition. Ultimately, we believed in the app, even without the promise of staff interaction, and the burden of committing staff to pick items was too high to justify.

Post-Deployment Improvements

As we approached launch day and studied beta-users’ interactions with the app, extensions of the product were tempting. Increased staff-side organizational tools, personalized optimizations to the user-interface, and many other features were brought up as low-effort additions that could make a difference


We decided to take a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach, as we knew that despite our rigour in testing and requirements gathering, we would only truly know what mattered to our users, both customer and staff, once we launched and could examine their usage patterns.

Scope & timeline




One of the fundamental data points we based our thinking on when designing the app was that the average lineup time at our test store was about 13.5 minutes. 


By launch day, the Ontario regulations on store occupancy had loosened, meaning more customers could enter the store at a time, and lineup times were reduced. In the two weeks post-launch, the average wait time at the store was down to around 3.75 minutes. With less time spent in line, there was less opportunity for customers to use the app in the way we had intended. Although not all attributable to InLine, we were very excited that our customers were able to get inside and get the products they were looking for more quickly than in the Spring.

The decision that we couldn’t commit staff to pick orders for customers meant a fundamental change in how we thought about InLine. We shifted from thinking of it as a transactional app - specify your order, and we’ll bring the items to the front of the store for you - to an informational, planning-focused app - browse products and check inventory before you’re in the store, so you can spend less time inside.


We were able to easily adapt to this new path, however, because we had built the app with a focus on ease of use and quality of information, rather than building it tightly to the frame of a specific use case. As a result, we’ve since learned of users using it in unexpected ways, like for picking which LCBO location to go to, while they’re still at home.

Build beyond use case


Between our control period - before InLine was released - and our launch period, the average lineup time plunged from over 13 minutes to under 4 minutes. This is a drastic shift, and if it weren’t for rigorous data collection, we might be tempted to pat ourselves on the backs and head home early. Outside of our pilot store, though, we were also keeping tabs on wait times at two other Kitchener liquor stores, which had similar drops. Based on these control variables, we were able to extrapolate that it wasn’t just InLine making a difference to wait times, it was the changing environment of regulations in the province, and more specifically, the relaxed limits on the number of customers in-store at a time.


Based on this knowledge, we kept working to make sure that we could accommodate customers beyond the core use case of making a list while waiting in a long lineup, and gained a lot of success this way - we estimate that since launch, at least a quarter of our users have used the app while not at the store.

Measure rigorously

You've made it this far 💚

Thanks for reading!

Over the course of our term at LCBO|next, we were lucky to be able to work on several impactful projects that made customers’ lives easier. InLine was just one example of the way that LCBO|next works - test, learn and iterate. Our term took place under unusual circumstances, but as an organization, and as a lab, we were able to keep things running smoothly by maintaining a focus on the concerns of our customers and staff. Thanks for reading — and if you’re feeling thirsty, feel free to check out InLine!

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