As we emerge from lockdown to revitalise the high-street there is no denying shopping habits have changed. From being glued to mobile devices at home, making impulse purchases and living a far more digitised life, the experience of in-store shopping is now being reflected online too. And while fewer consumers are shopping in the high-street, virtual shopping combines the best elements of online shopping and the social aspect we all crave. In today’s article, we are digging into the world of virtual shopping, its impact on retail and what the future entails.
What to expect:
- What is virtual shopping
- Benefits of virtual shopping
- The virtual assistant
- The future of retail
- Is virtual shopping the future of retail?
What is virtual shopping?
Virtual shopping brings life to eCommerce websites. It digitises the IRL shopping experiences and integrates a virtual shopping assistant to the platform. This means a customer can be connected to a virtual store assistant where they can ask questions, view products and curate a basket personable to them.
Take a traditional eCommerce store. It’s filled with categories coupled with HTML images, product specifications and maybe the odd video demonstration. In terms of its customer service, it could be a contact form or chatbot. It’s a tried-and-true method, however, if you are not Amazon then it is hard to compete on price, simplicity and quick deliveries.
Virtual shopping evokes powerful story-telling online, creates an emotional bond and presents a strong brand differentiator against the tyrants of eCommerce.
Benefits of Virtual Shopping
It’s a solution to post-pandemic retail environment.
Since COVID-19, retailers who were not digitally native have been forced to drastically change their business models, to match the changing demand in how customers perceive online experiences. 82% of retailers expressed ‘improving customer experience’ as their highest business priority for the following year. In a recent HBR survey, 1,091 business leaders including 82 within the retail industry answered the question:
“Which of the following changes has your organisation made/is it making in response to new customer needs and demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic?”
Here are some of the results:
- Offering or upgrading online transactions (61%)
- Expanding communication to customers (55%)
- Engaging with customers via digital tools (46%)
Virtual shopping marries a variety of online and offline services into one channel, and by deploying virtual assistants it maintains a level of customer service that was once only achieved in physical retail.
Optimise your mobile experience
79% of smartphone users have made a purchase within the last 6 months. However, figures show 40% of users will go to a competitor after a bad mobile experience with a further 84% experiencing difficulty in completing a mobile transaction. Virtual shopping software like Confer With requires no app installations on the customer end – breaking down barriers to fulfil a service. Furthermore, optimising mobile experiences will allow brands to improve conversion rates and reduce cart abandonment.
A promising solution to worrying cart abandonment
Barclaycard Payments recently revealed UK retailers have lost out on more than £39.4 million due to the staggering increase in customers abandoning ship over the last 12 months. The value of abandoned baskets has doubled since 2018. The pandemic has fuelled the online shopping and virtual window shopping trend, leading to Brits being ‘tabbed out’ – when too many shopping pages are open at once. Factors that influence this high rate are high delivery costs (37%) and cyber window shopping (26%). On the other hand, clear navigation decreases the likelihood of ditching a purchase by 18%. Integrating a virtual shared basket disables barriers and guides customers from the point of interest to closing the sale. If a customer were to be reassured and have all questions answered it improves clarity and results in a successful purchase.
Offer virtual appointments for a blended retail experience
Virtual shopping equips retailers with the necessary tools to reach customers regardless of where their team are based. By providing virtual assistants with resources, they can virtually uphold store values with ease and ensure customers are receiving the same high standard of service. And while stores reopen, virtual appointments offer convenience to those who cannot make in-store. In addition, virtual appointments allow brands to build an effective customer profile so when customers enter in-store, they can offer far more personable and efficient service.
Come chat with us to find out more how virtual shopping can convert sales and deliver personalised shopping experiences online
Virtual shopping has no intention of slowing down
Lockdown accelerated virtual shopping experiences and despite non-essential stores reopening coupled with relaxed social distancing rules – the demand for virtual stores is growing. In China, statistics show that by 2022, 20% of all online shopping will be done through a video. Additionally, Goldman Sachs predict the market for AR and VR in retail will reach $1.6 billion by 2025. And the people are incredibly receptive to such emerging technologies. Making online shopping fun, engaging, and interactive many say (63%) would even change the way they shop for good.
The Virtual Shopping Assistant
So what does the virtual shopping assistant look like? It is a hard one to fathom however most virtual assistants reach out through video call software like Zoom. But there has been criticism of this particular method. Yolanda White, co-founder and CEO of Dayo found Zoom made appointments awkward and were unable to express the product’s versatility and attributes over a video call.
And this isn’t a surprising statement to hear. We are all suffering from Zoom fatigue and if a customer expects to share a somewhat intimate experience you want it to be immersive and engaging.
That’s why the Confer With service takes the best elements from online and offline channels and empowers your team to give real-time advice on what to buy as they would in-store. It equips virtual shopping assistants with live video shopping tools, data and a virtual shared basket to ensure a seamless and enjoyable online shopping experience. Unlike Zoom where it is a rather underwhelming video call, a virtual call with Confer With keeps the user engaged where they can add their own customisations, select products and view recommendations based on data and their personal preferences.
Bicester Village Virtual Shopping – an example of what’s to come
Dotted around the UK are shopping villages filled with well-known brands and boutique stores. It was your typical family day-out with the hustle and bustle of people looking for the next big deal in normal times. Things are a little different in the present day, and while social distancing rules have been introduced, footfall numbers are decreasing. To mitigate risks and ensure they are still reaching their customers, Bicester Village has introduced virtual shopping. Customers can contact the boutique stores in the centre and arrange a virtual personal shopping assistant.
What makes this an interesting case is that Bicester Village attracts people from all over the country and plentiful tourists. And not everyone can make the journey, whether it’s financial, limited time or simply geographical factors – a quick trip to the shopping village may not be doable. By introducing virtual shopping it breaks down those barriers and whilst the boutique remains open to the public, virtual selling can fill in the gaps.
Final words – is virtual shopping the future of retail?
Post COVID-19 will see retailers blend these two channels to form an entirely new customer experience. It’s a technology-led approach focusing on advanced analytics and AI to deliver a hyper-personalised experience. Customers can receive tailored curation from the moment they interact with a business, meaning whatever they engage with online can then be replicated offline and vice versa. Is virtual shopping the future of retail? As we continue to lead digitised lives and demand a highly personable and relevant experience online – the answer is yes.