If the lockdown has demonstrated anything to retailers, it’s the power of online commerce coupled with virtual shopping experiences. Amid the disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers have found themselves flourishing with the help of virtual retailing.
All of this has seen virtual shopping’s market share increase. In China alone, live video shopping is predicted to hit a value of over $170 billion, the implications of which are potentially huge for retailers. Virtual shopping has evolved from a feature that was nice to have one day into the next big thing to elevate the retail experience.
The Rise of Virtual Shopping
Ecommerce has been steadily growing since it first entered the retail landscape. However, despite the introduction of next-day delivery and mobile shopping, physical stores continued to hold a majority of the market share. In 2019, brick-and-mortar transactions still accounted for 90% of retail sales with a $4.4 trillion market share. But this changed overnight.
The COVID-19 pandemic has massively shaken-up the retail landscape with physical stores forced to close or severely limit their operations. As a result, retail has seen a rapid channel shift with almost all transactions, besides those for essential items, occurring online.
As brands have adapted to unpredictable circumstances, more and more have started to recognize the power of virtual retailing and have turned to HERO® to power more engaging online shopping experiences.
From apparel brands such as rag & bone who implemented their own virtual styling feature on their website, to beauty brands such as Deciem and Credo Beauty who are making use of virtual consultations, virtual shopping has found success across retail industries.
The COVID-19 crisis has even pushed luxury brands such as Gucci to recognize the value in virtual shopping experiences with the launch of Gucci Live, a service designed to connect shoppers with associates in a studio designed to look like a store.
In light of store closures and massive uncertainty, retailers are increasingly looking to close the gap between the online and in-store shopping experiences by turning towards virtual shopping—and it’s paying off. Compared to last year, we’ve seen a 42% increase in sales from customers who interacted through the HERO® virtual shopping feature. What we’re seeing is a permanent shift in the way consumers are buying as well as in the ways brands are selling.
Virtual Shopping: What Do Customers Want?
Virtual shopping comes down to a need to address consumer expectations and offer more value for them. What customers need seems unchanged on the surface. They want fast fulfillment and a large variety of product choices at a low cost, and these are expectations that are seemingly being met by the ecommerce giants of the world. What customers really want, however, goes deeper than this.
It is telling that, prior to 2020, physical stores were still the site of most retail transactions. Consumers tend to spend less online because they lack the confidence to follow through with a purchase. When buying in a physical store, customers benefit from having retail associates on-hand to offer advice and answer questions. Likewise, customers enjoy the tactile experience offered by brick-and-mortar stores, particularly when it comes to buying luxury apparel or furniture. Ultimately, when left without human assistance, customers are more likely to walk away from purchases through online channels, which is why shopping cart abandonment through ecommerce channels reached 69.5% in 2019.
Despite the convenience and accessibility of online shopping, the physical store maintains a strong hold on consumers. This is because beneath the desire for faster and more convenient retail experiences, there is a need for human interaction. This is where virtual shopping can offer a much better retail experience for customers.
How Does it All Work?
How is virtual shopping addressing the needs of future consumers? By bridging the divide between online and in-store.
Virtual shopping is founded on one simple idea: bringing human connection to ecommerce experiences. The result is a true omnichannel experience that seamlessly blends the lines between online and brick-and-mortar. An associate working in-store can instantly connect via text, chat, or video with a customer browsing from home. Through this real-time connection, customers can ask questions, view products and get recommendations from a product expert while also browsing the entire online catalogue of products.
Virtual shopping is revolutionizing the ways in which consumers buy, allowing them to take part in the human experience of the physical store from the comfort of their own homes. And it doesn’t have to end there.
While increasing sales through ecommerce channels, virtual shopping is also helping to secure the future of physical stores. In the current climate, where stores are still feeling the impact of lockdown, virtual shopping technology is helping to convert online customers to in-store foot traffic. In this instance, customers are using online sessions with store associates to scope out product choices before leveraging physical stores to complete purchases, helping to ensure brick-and-mortar commerce remains alive and well.
The Retail Experiences of Tomorrow
With COVID-19 changing the ways in which both retailers and consumers operate, there is no doubt that virtual shopping technology is driving the retail experiences of the future.
By bringing the power of in-store interactions to online channels, virtual shopping is meeting consumer expectations across convenience and fulfillment options, while simultaneously providing the sought-after human element of physical stores. Ultimately, in the ever-shifting landscape of retail, brands need to make sure they not only listen to what consumers really want, but that they can provide them with what they need.
The future of retail is virtual. The question is: are brands ready?