Virtual shopping experiences have taken the world by storm since their inception in the early 1990s. With Amazon, eBay, and a host of other online retailers, customers are now able to participate in virtual shopping experiences from the comfort of their own homes.
The negative impact C19 had on much of the world, pushed virtual shopping experiences and the technologies that support them into hyper-drive. E-commerce stores were required to adapt at lightning speed and adjust to the societal reset that was taking place before them - and Ai is only adding fuel to the fire.
In this new age of rapid digital transformation, the retail industry is undergoing a paradigm shift in how customers interact with brands online. With the fusion of cutting-edge tools for conversational commerce, Ai, ML, NLP, LLM, and other systems, e-commerce, and virtual shopping experiences as a whole are revolutionizing the way we shop and interact with brands.
In this blog post, we will delve into the top five concepts around the "virtual shopping experience" to uncover the future of retail and the rise of immersive customer experiences. We'll explore the benefits of virtual shopping, the technologies behind it, and how it enhances the customer experience.
So let's get started...
What is a virtual shopping experience? Virtual shopping experiences are when brands use a digital platform that enables their customers to buy goods and services without ever leaving their homes. In other words, it is an enhanced version of online shopping that offers customers the same level of service and convenience as they would get in a physical store, but with the added convenience of location freedom.
As companies began to sell high-consideration products online their customers demanded more personalized experiences, tailored to their preferences and needs. In the early days of online shopping, the "store" was no different than a physical catalog you'd have delivered to your home, and the internet was used to facilitate the transaction no different from a credit card scanner.
But today, everything has changed. Now we're buying cars, life insurance, clothes of every shape and size, and even cryptocurrencies online. We manage our finances, do our taxes, and handle our banking and retirement online - in other words, the virtual shopping experience is becoming the primary way to transact in the modern world.
This concept is revolutionizing the retail industry by making it easier and faster for customers to shop, all while providing them with a more enhanced experience. There are numerous technologies available that give brands the ability to create an immersive virtual shopping experience, such as augmented reality (AR), 3D product visualization, virtual reality (VR), and concierge commerce which connects shoppers to a real human product expert to serve as their own personal shopper.
These technologies, when combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), provide an unparalleled level of customer engagement that helps to drive brand loyalty.
If you look at the capabilities of Ai, on one end of the spectrum, artificial intelligence can be used to analyze past customer behavior, predict future trends, and optimize product recommendations for a personalized shopping experience based on the individual's preferences – and on the other end, used to enhance the human's ability to scale conversations with the power to predict texts, complete sentences for expert review, make full product recommendations, and other things that supercharge a human’s ability to deliver quality experiences and fast results.
As we dive into "Virtual Shopping Experiences" online, we get a glimpse of the immense potential of this transformative concept. Bringing an in-store customer experience to online shoppers is a novel (but not so far off concept).
But with virtual shopping experiences, brands now have the opportunity to provide "retail clienteling" type experiences to their customers that act as customized and immersive guidance from personal shoppers who can provide expert advice to aid in quality buying decisions.
Let's look at one example in particular. OLAPLEX Haircare. Olaplex was launched in 2014 as a salon-grade restorative hair care product company that specialized in what was called "bond-building" products for damaged hair - and due to the quality of their products, they became a bit of a grassroots phenomenon.
When C19 stuck, instead of getting decimated due to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders like many other brands, OLAPLEX made the shift to online.
But this shift also came with a challenge. Up until now, OLAPLEX products had been represented and sold by Hair experts and stylists at salons - these were professionals who knew what they were selling and could serve as product experts. How would they ever deliver the same online?
The OLAPLEX team started vetting different conversational commerce platforms to find the right solution for their customers. They needed "chat," SMS, quizzes and surveys, and other customer experience-enhancing features that would allow them to deliver the professional experience their customers were accustomed to.
When they came across Humankind, which ties all of the above elements together, all while being complemented with a Human Concierge Expert, they knew they'd found the right fit… here’s a link to their Case-study to see their results!
Humankind's concierge commerce platform gave their internal team of licensed stylists the tools to create the perfect personalized recommendations for their customers - and as they scale, OLAPLEX built out those teams (internally and externally) to handle demand without sacrificing the customer experience (CX).
One of the terms that have recently gained popularity in the e-commerce world is "immersive retail." Immersive retail refers to the use of digital technologies, like Lidar, AR, and VR, to create engaging experiences for customers. Think about the ability to put on a VR headset to shop for a suit that fits perfectly when it arrives in the mail.
Now some of these technologies are just theoretical at the moment, but we're very close to a shopping experience where you can scan bodily dimensions with an iPhone, upload a file to an online store, and receive bespoke (tailored custom clothing) in the mail a few weeks later.
Very soon, AR/VR showrooms allow customers to explore products from all angles before they buy them. Customers can even customize their purchase experience by adding personal touches such as different fabrics or colors, which can also be simulated in the virtual environment.
In short, immersive retail enables shoppers to personalize their shopping experience in ways that are not possible with traditional online stores. The result? Customers save time and money while being presented with products tailored to them.
One technology that's currently delivering excellent customer experiences (CX) is personal shopping powered by Humankind. Think about having an assistant whom you could text to do all of your shopping and you'll have an accurate picture of the power of Humankind’s conversational commerce platform.
As PwC has surveyed shoppers about their eCommerce experiences, one of the biggest frustrations they've expressed is a lack of human interaction. 82% of the individuals surveyed said that they wanted more human interaction and that they'd pay a premium for it.
They stated that their main sources of frustration were not being able to get what they wanted. Unless the answer to their questions was "get a different size," "return a product," or “check on my order," the use of chatbots and workflow logic was often more frustrating than helpful.
Humankind's platform solves this problem by providing customers with a human concierge. OLAPLEX now has a team of licensed professionals who can leverage Humankind's technology to offer 1:1 human connection with their customers that gets results.
In 2022, this approach garnered OLAPLEX a 4.94 customer satisfaction (CSAT) rating - proving that the focus on providing a powerfully connected virtual shopping experience was having the desired effect.
The valuable insights that you gather through collecting rich customer data will help you create seamless, user-friendly interfaces, optimize products, and streamline the purchasing process. These are all factors that will allow your brand to thrive in the competitive eCommerce Landscape.
The biggest question in many brand marketers' minds is, "What does my customer want?"
The answer is as complex as it is simple - customers want a shopping experience that makes them feel like they are being heard, understood, and respected. They want to know that they matter to the brand they're buying from.
With virtual shopping experiences, brands can deliver a unique and personalized experience to customers that enhance the overall customer experience (CX). This is because virtual shopping experiences use data to customize content for shoppers in real time. This allows brands to create an interactive environment that encourages exploration, research, engagement, and loyalty - all of which result in a better shopping experience for customers.
One example of this is Cascadia Vehicle Tents. Shopping for an Overlanding tent is what we'd call a high-consideration decision. Questions like: "Will this fit my vehicle?" "Will this fit the rack that I have on my vehicle?" "Will mounting this tent on my vehicle decrease my MPG (gas mileage)?" and so many others could have literally millions of possible answers.
Instead of creating an FAQ page the size of a book, Cascadia Vehicle Tents decided to use Humankind's conversational commerce software, combined with our ability to find and train personal shoppers to guide customers through virtual shopping experiences.
If you're in the market for a new vehicle top tent, head on over to Cascadia Tents and try out the "Text with an Expert" feature to try it for yourself!
In any case, by leveraging virtual shopping experiences, brands can deliver a tailored and personalized customer journey that boosts engagement, satisfaction, loyalty - and ultimately sales.
Let's talk about the future for a second, because before we know it, it's going to be here. Augmented reality shopping experiences, virtual reality in retail, virtual shopping apps, platforms, and virtual try-on shopping all play significant roles in shaping this new retail landscape.
But all of these must be combined with one thing- Connection. Throughout C19, we saw the effects of isolation and its impact on humanity. Mental health took a beating, and people were disconnected from one another.
Referring back to PwC's report, no matter how advanced technology gets, customers will always want to feel that human connection. That's why at Humankind, we believe in the power of personalization. By combining intelligent technologies with real people - licensed professionals, experts, and specialists - businesses can provide a powerful, personalized shopping experience for their customers.
As we explore how to use Ai, LLM, and NLP in the shopping experience, we've decided to use them to supercharge human interactions, rather than replace them.
Ai is fantastic; an incredible innovation, and one that the whole world is either excited about or highly skeptical of. But there's a different feeling that comes over a customer when they talk to someone in real-time - which is why we believe that Humankind is the perfect tool for brands who want to drive customer loyalty, satisfaction, and engagement by providing an interactive virtual shopping experience.
By connecting customers with real people on the most powerful channel SMS, Humankind helps brands create meaningful connections with their customers that resonate even after the shopping experience is over.
There's no doubt that virtual shopping experiences represent the future of retail. As machine learning, (ML), artificial intelligence (Ai), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and Conversational Commerce platforms continue to evolve, they will become essential tools to WOW customers and create competitive virtual shopping experiences.
By embracing and even leveraging the most powerful and connected technologies, eCommerce brands can provide immersive virtual shopping experiences that engage customers and drive sales.
If you'd like to see how Humankind helped OLAPLEX drive customer satisfaction (CSAT) and sales, book your demo to chat with someone from our team, today!