The virtual store is a technological exploration into the personal experience between retail and customers, offering a blended experience that is redefining the way we shop. In this article, we’ll uncover what virtual stores are and how it equips retailers for the future.
What is a Virtual Store?
Everything from a physical store that the customer would expect – the browsing, the possibility of interaction, the product lists and displays, is made digital by virtual stores. Customers can embark on a journey of immersion from the comfort of their own sofa.
Virtual stores can range from a variety of possibilities – anywhere from VR headsets and to mobile apps, 3D stores and websites. These are all ways that a virtual store can present itself – and they all align to further meet the customer needs and overall satisfaction. Customers can interact, communicate, browse and personalise their own shopping experience, which is all supported by retail experts.
What is the Function of a Virtual Store?
Briefly – it enhances customer experience. Online retail stereotypically struggles to meet customer satisfaction. This is because they cannot try the product before purchasing, and they do not have the reassurance of a retail expert alongside them.
They are able to interact with retail experts that are available in real-time or by appointment. They can ask questions, queries, be shown different offers and demonstrations of a variety of products, without having to wait.
Virtual stores offer an immersive and engaging environment, replicating in-store experiences accessible from any device.
Examples of Virtual Stores
Ralph Lauren Online Walk-Through Stores
Ralph Lauren has recently launched online walk-through stores, showcasing their physical flagships as impressive digital setups with the richness and depth to match.
These provide a similar experience to that in real life. It offers a virtual experience where customers are able to see the list of departments, where they can select and bypass the somewhat strenuous ‘walk through’ to find your desired area. Accompanying the experience is music which adds a level of instore realism that is not captured online.
Customers are able to explore the store, experience the physical feel of a store, click on products, browse the range, all from home.
Online traffic has increased by 10 times thanks to the virtual store, which have received thousands of visitors from around the world every dayRalph Lauren
Burberry ‘Phygital’ Store
In July 2020, Burberry launched its first phygital retail store in China. It brings the world of social media and IRL shopping together, creating a truly interactive experience for customers. Each product has QR codes which when scanned shows additional content including product storytelling and the opportunity to collect social currency. By also using WeChat, customers can collect social currency to unlock hidden features and add an even more personable shopping experience.
Experiencing a phygital store utilises the best elements of offline and online channels and still brings a community vibe where people are interacting with people; something that was absent in the Ralph Lauren virtual store.
Burberry’s social retail store is a place of discovery that connects and rewards customers as they explore online and in-store. It marks a shift in how we engage with our customers.Marco Gobbetti
While both are great examples of virtual store experiences, how can the journey be enhanced further, especially if these interactions are taking place online?
How Video Commerce Enhances the Virtual Store
Video commerce has a variety of benefits, where customers can view the products, ask questions, and complete the transaction all in one sales channel. Integrating live video shopping within your virtual store can add a depth of realism and in-store experiences that were not once achieved.
Customers browse online to research and evaluate multiple brands. What makes it a great experience is the easy navigation, authentic reviews and clear product descriptions. Additionally, changing consumer trends mean customers are eager to try new shopping habits and different retailers altogether.
Retail technology is what will define the next ten years and one strong product is live video shopping. Live video shopping marries the seamless online journey and in-store service to present an enhanced customer shopping journey that not only improves sales but leads to repeat custom.
One example of creating an immersive virtual environment is deploying a shared virtual basket on your online store. Features include matching customers to virtual assistants, engaging with customers to understand needs, immerse them by suggesting relevant products straight from your own recommendation engine resulting in a happy customer and converted sales.
What are the Benefits of Virtual Stores?
So far we have defined virtual stores and some examples that align. What are some of the benefits of a virtual store?
- Engagement and Interaction
The key brand differentiator no longer relies solely on price but how superior the customer experience is. Retail Analyst and Founder of NBK Retail, Natalie Berg shares her thoughts on customer expectations post COVID-19:
In lockdown, retailers have recognised the need to connect online consumers with in-store staff and this will become more of an opportunity to differentiate and develop customer loyalty through superior service
Live video shopping makes every product shoppable and with the addition of showing images, videos and live reactions it can engage customers in an online shopping experience that is truly memorable and makes a strong brand differentiator.
- Customer Satisfaction
For eCommerce brands, customer satisfaction is one of the most important factors. The online space is designed to benefit and provide for the customer. Minimising the length of time the customer has to spend researching and looking at a product, the better. Customers are given an engaging, interactive and personalised channel to shop and experience the brand.
An article by Wyzowl quoted, that “69% of consumers believe a product demo best assists them when making a purchase decision,” and “almost 80% of people state that product videos give them more confidence when purchasing a product.” Virtual stores, with an example of video commerce, enhance this confidence.
Due to the post-pandemic attitude, customers are more interested in receiving personalised customer experiences. With virtual stores, it gives companies an opportunity to deliver customers this experience, regardless of online limitations.
With immersion, it gives customers more confidence to purchase the product or service. Immersive enhances the overall experience, making it fun and engaging. Where customers can purchase with reassurance.
With the absence of physical stores, customers are missing the experience of a store. With virtual stores, Customers are able to view the products they want to see and immerse themselves in the customer service and experience of the brand.
This makes it much easier for brands to reinforce the brands’ image to the customer. The retail experts are able to demonstrate different products, offering the customer the service they expect.