Shoppers want to see, feel, and try on apparel before they buy—it’s one of the most important factors impacting a shopper’s decision to purchase. This tactile IRL shopping experience is why 55% of shoppers browse clothing stores in person instead of online.
When the coronavirus made it impossible for these shoppers to access showrooms and fitting rooms, retail brands had to find new solutions. One of the ways many retail brands were able to stay afloat—and in many cases grow—is how they adapted to their shoppers’ needs with new virtual experiences.
Apparel brands including Hermès and Kering (which owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Bottega Veneta) didn’t see dips in sales between 2019 and 2021. Hermès alone saw 44% growth in 2021 compared to 2020, and 33% growth compared to 2019.
The virtual fitting room: A new way to shop.
A concept tested by just a handful of merchants a few years ago, virtual fitting rooms are now taking the retail market by storm. These immersive online spaces use augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence to help shoppers find the perfect item, bridging the gap between online and offline, and giving online shoppers more confidence to purchase products from the comfort of their homes.
The market for these experiences is expected to grow to $12.97 Billion by 2028, and luxury fashion groups are leading the way. Brands like Gucci, Chanel, and Burberry are already executing it flawlessly. Shoppers can try on shoes using their phone camera, visit online styling rooms, assemble outfits in a virtual store, upload pictures of themselves to try on a shade of lipstick, and more.
While these immersive experiences are exciting and convenient for online shoppers, nearly half still prefer the in-store shopping experience. Here’s how leading brands are bringing more of the IRL shopping experience into the virtual fitting room:
Purchasing a pair of shoes, or even jeans, online can be a nerve-wracking experience. Fortunately, in-store stylists can now connect live with these shoppers using only a smartphone, demonstrating products and sharing personalized recommendations via text, chat, and video. In 1-on-1 virtual consultations, stylists show shoppers products up close and even provide video and images to help them understand how a product looks and feels.
For example, rag & bone offers 1:1 consultations with online shoppers to help better identify the correct items for them, sharing the fine details of the brand’s expertly-crafted pieces directly from the physical store.
Since starting virtual consultations in January 2020, rag & bone found roughly 58% of conversations initiated by shoppers related to sizing and fit. While customers typically only have a few static sizing tables on the website to reference, 1:1 virtual consultations bring them insights from someone who truly knows the ins and outs of every product—and has that exact product right in front of them. And by ensuring sizing is right up front, the brand is able to cut down on costly returns as well.
Building strong connections with online shoppers is critical for ensuring virtual fitting room experiences result in sales and return visits.
Retailers have used in-store clienteling—the process of proactively communicating with VIP customers based on their shopping behavior and past purchases—to build these connections for years. Today, leading brands are maintaining these relationships virtually.
Virtual clienteling empowers stylists to build relationships far after initial consultations with online shoppers, giving them tools to keep the conversation going through texts, email, and WhatsApp. Stylists are tapping into virtual clienteling to recommend products for shoppers undergoing long-term home projects, to stay in touch about restocks and sales, and more.
Apparel brand UNTUCKit employs an expert team of highly knowledgeable store associates who now offer shoppers virtual consultations—covering everything from style recommendations to fit expertise. And post-consultation, associates leverage virtual clienteling to close sales and encourage repeat purchases. In fact, from 60,000 virtual consultations, UNTUCKit launched from May 2020 to January 2021, 88% of these shoppers purchased within 24 hours of their session, and 17% requested a second consultation.
More and more brands are embracing virtual fitting rooms and making it easy for shoppers and stylists to connect live from their smartphones or computers. E-commerce is booming, and shoppers also still want human-driven experiences; brands need to adapt to these changing preferences.
Brands are leading the way by adding layers of personalization, authenticity, and creativity to their virtual experiences—and it’s working.