If the pandemic has proven anything to retailers, it’s the power of online commerce. Retailers must turn to new technologies to make online shopping interactive, personalized, and social to stay competitive.
One technology making a gigantic impact is virtual shopping. Fast becoming a favorite for shoppers everywhere, virtual shopping creates an authentic in-store experience, online, utilizing video and chat. And it’s driving sales for retailers around the globe, in China alone in 2020 live video generated an estimated $170B in sales. Virtual shopping has evolved from a wouldn’t-that-be-nice-to-have-someday feature into the next big thing elevating retail experiences.
How does it work?
Virtual shopping works on a simple idea: bringing human connection to e-commerce. A person browsing from home can instantly connect (via text, chat, or video) with a brand’s actual trained associates, stylists, or experts. Through these real-time connections, people can ask questions, view products, and get personalised recommendations from product experts while browsing the entire online catalog of products. The result is an authentic omnichannel experience, seamlessly blending online and brick-and-mortar.
Virtual shopping bridges the gap between online and in-store making transactional, boring e-commerce a thing of the past. Forget static photos, irrelevant search results, and dull chatbots. Like social apps, virtual shopping makes the online experience more interactive, immersive, and super personal. It’s revolutionising how people buy, allowing them to enjoy the human experience of physical stores from the comfort of their own homes.
Virtual shopping also helps rethink the role of a “store.” Many retailers are still feeling the pandemic’s impact, with e-commerce expected to account for more than 58% of total retail sales in 2022. Brands can use their retail stores as studios to shoot and share compelling content for online shoppers and inspire online browsers to come in-store and complete their purchases.
The rise of virtual shopping.
E-commerce has not always been so dominant. As much as people love doing everything online, physical stores previously held most of the market share despite the introduction of next-day delivery and mobile shopping. In 2019, brick-and-mortar transactions accounted for 90% of retail sales with a $4.4 trillion market share. But as brands adapted to unpredictable circumstances over the last 2 years, they sought new ways to reach shoppers, and their interest in virtual shopping exploded. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of retailers using virtual shopping increased by 260%. Hundreds of the world’s leading global brands, including rag & bone and Credo Beauty, are now boosting average order values (AOV), increasing conversions, and inspiring shoppers with virtual shopping experiences.
Luxury brands, in particular, have recognised the value of virtual shopping experiences. With the launch of Gucci Live, Gucci connects shoppers with associates in a studio designed to look like a store. And luxury fashion house Burberry has focused on virtual shopping tools since 2020 to manage customer journeys more profitably. Online shoppers can video chat, ask questions, and get a close-up of a brand’s collections, further immersing shoppers in the exclusive showcase experience, creating an emotional bond, and fostering brand loyalty.
We’re seeing a permanent shift in the way people buy, and how brands are selling.
Virtual shopping: What do shoppers want?
What shoppers desire may seem unchanged on the surface—they want fast fulfillment and a large variety of product choices at a low cost. The e-commerce giants of the world are seemingly meeting these expectations. However, what shoppers actually want goes deeper.
People tend to spend less online because they lack the confidence to follow through with a purchase. They want personalised advice and inspiration—they want human connection. When buying in a physical store, shoppers have retail associates on-hand offering advice and answering questions, giving them the confidence to make purchases. Likewise, they enjoy the tactile experience offered by brick-and-mortar stores, particularly when buying luxury apparel or furniture. When left without human assistance, people are more likely to walk away from purchases through online channels, which is why shopping cart abandonment through e-commerce channels reached 69.5% as recently as 2019.
While online shopping offers convenience and accessibility, the physical store maintains a firm hold on consumers. People like going to the store because beneath the desire for faster and more efficient retail experiences, there is a need for human interaction—this is where virtual shopping offers shoppers a much better retail experience.
And it works—online shoppers are 21X more likely to purchase after interacting with an expert through virtual shopping.
The retail experiences of tomorrow.
COVID has changed how retailers and consumers operate and virtual shopping technology is driving future retail experiences.
By bringing the power of real-life interactions to online channels, virtual shopping gives shoppers convenience, while providing the sought-after human element of physical stores. As shopper behaviour changes, brands need to make sure they not only listen to what shoppers want but anticipate their future needs to stay relevant.
The future of retail is when the walls between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce don’t exist—that future is arriving fast.
More of us will be using video chat to connect live to a product expert in-store. Trained store associates will have a window into what we’re browsing online, chatting with us live about what’s new in-store, and provide thoughtful recommendations. We’ll be dialing into more video streams taking place in our favourite boutiques and showrooms as store associates become the new influencers. Physical stores will exist for e-commerce, and the role of the store associate will evolve with it.