The latest edition of Humans of Commerce, HERO®’s monthly series of virtual events interviewing the individuals that are reimagining the world of retail and commerce, featured an enlightening conversation about the future of virtual shopping. Emma Siveyer, head of Digital Products at Three UK and Katie Baron, Director of Brand Engagement at Stylus, sat down to discuss the ways virtual shopping and the Covid-19 pandemic have changed the retail landscape and ushered in a new era of commerce.
International lockdowns led businesses across the world to rethink how they engaged with their customer base, and Three UK were no exception. In some respects, they were fortunate: having worked with Hero since 2018 there was already a strong foundation to build upon when the pandemic saw both their stores and call centers forced out of action.
Watch the full webinar here.
Emma told us about the quick response that was needed in order to react to these changes. Three UK scaled up their virtual shopping capabilities to over ten times their initial capacity. The pay-off was immediate, and Three UK was far from the only company to discover the value of bridging the gap between physical and digital over the past year. With immediate feedback on what was and wasn’t working, Emma’s team were able to identify what worked and what didn’t, and quickly implement change.
Three UK’s story is just one of tens of thousands that have played out over the past year, and it’s clear that the long term impact of these reactions has changed the playing field forever. The fourth installment of Humans of Commerce saw Hero COO Natasha Franzen discover more about Emma’s experiences at the dawn of this new era, and talk with Katie about the various ways we can expect retail to evolve as businesses get to grips with the new opportunities available to them.
Watch the conversation here and discover 4 key insights below:
1. Discover the art of e-persuasion. While much of the last year’s innovation in the retail sector was born out of necessity, Katie is excited by the way the landscape has been irrevocably changed as a result. Companies have now seen how valuable personalized commerce can be, and she believes these developments are just the beginning of a wider shift in our approach to retail. What’s important now is that businesses are able to adapt to this change, and learn how to best connect with their customers through mediums like virtual shopping.
Virtual consultations are the perfect way to offer a personalized approach that might previously have been frowned upon. One of the major mood shifts the pandemic brought about was shopper interest in local businesses, and by connecting customers to local brand experts retailers can engage with this shift. This will be increasingly important as the pre-pandemic move towards micropolitanism shifts up a gear, and more people seek to move away from big cities.
2. Repurpose tools to wrap commerce in virtual services. The need to find fast solutions that could replace in store services will have a legacy that far outlives current circumstances. Three UK had already begun to embrace virtual shopping opportunities, but its effectiveness over the past year means they’re unlikely to return to a pre-pandemic approach as stores open up. Other companies found themselves adapting existing tools that were intended for internal use in order to offer customers the same level of service they’d come to expect.
The approaches brands have taken to maintain customer service levels will be refined and kept in action even as the world continues to open back up. Katie spoke about ‘creating a buffet of options’ that can wrap around the customer experience – allowing virtual spaces to fit around the various ways customers might seek to engage with a brand. Not every customer will want a video chat when a live chat will suffice – and brands need to recognize and adapt to this.
3. Explore the potential brand broadcasting offers. Katie believes we are already gorging on broadcasting. From podcasts to social media like TikTok and Clubhouse, we aren’t just consuming, we are creating and actively broadcasting ourselves.
There are countless ways that this medium can be used to appeal to shoppers. Beyond simply allowing people to engage with large scale broadcasts seen by thousands, brands can allow customers to tap into intimate online conversations that aren’t recorded or offer an exclusive experience for a select few that watch in the moment. By doing so, companies have an opportunity to connect with unique and niche groups who have previously been ignored in favor of broad demographics.
The potential for meaningful collaborations is huge, too. From globally recognized companies to social media influencers and even consumers themselves, brands are able to team up with influential and complementary partners to create unique ways to connect with their audiences.
4. Don’t forget the physical experience.
Emma was encouraged by the lines outside Three UK’s stores when they were finally able to reopen last week. It shows, she says, that there is still a desire for the experience of a physical shop, and the tactile elements digital can’t replicate. The key for her, then, is the marrying of the digital experience with the physical store space.
In parts of Asia we’re already seeing what this might look like, with flagship stores creating areas in store that can serve as studios for their customers to share content from. Pairing the booming digital trend of broadcast with a physical visit to the store is a powerful way to keep shoppers engaged with every aspect of your brand.
Three have once again adapted the way they use Hero in the light of stores reopening – allowing them to create virtual queues that make in-person shopping easier and safer. Not only are shoppers able to avoid physical lines, they’re also given extra opportunities to connect with Three, and are able to easily follow up on their visit once they’ve left the shop.
Creating this sort of flexibility is vital, says Katie. We’ve seen how devastating sudden changes in circumstance can be not just for brands, but for entire economies.
“The new era of commerce will be built around flexibility as a way to offer future proofing against whatever brands might come up against, while ensuring that consumers are able to engage in the way that suits their individual needs on any given day. Engaging with technology that ties the digital and physical shopping experiences together neatly allows companies to feel fully prepared for whatever this new era of commerce might bring.”