For years, high-end luxury retailers practiced "retail clienteling" to create a personalized and exclusive in-store experience for their customers. With the transition from in-store shopping experiences to eCommerce, brands have been looking for ways to create the same level of engagement and personalization of clienteling, without sacrificing the convenience of eCommerce.
Virtual retail is emerging as a powerful solution to this challenge, allowing customers to enjoy an immersive in-store experience online and revolutionizing the way that we shop.
Virtual retail is a combination of cutting-edge technologies that allow customers to experience an in-store shopping experience online. By leveraging the latest conversational commerce software, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) technologies, customers can explore a 360-degree view of stores, shop for products in realistic 3D environments, see products that they want to buy in their environment, build real human connections with personal shoppers and product experts, interact with sales associates virtually, and even use interactive 3D product configurations.
The physical stores we've shopped at most of our lives were required to rapidly adapt to the changing world as COVID-19 became the central focus of the last three years. Physical stores became virtual ones - and this shift required retailers to adapt to customer expectations and needs. Virtual stores provide a frictionless shopping experience, which is personalized and convenient for customers.
But going virtual created a new challenge.
Many of the products sold today are luxury, high-end, and high-consideration products, which means the customers who buy them want to ask a lot of questions, see and feel a product before they pay for it, and receive a level of personalization that wasn't possible through one-click "add-to-cart" options from big box retailers like Amazon and Walmart.
Customers wanted real human connection in the purchase experience, they wanted to be able to try on the clothes before they bought them, ask questions, and access expert product advice - all without having to leave their homes.
This demand created what we now refer to as the "virtual retail experience."
Virtual retail stores can help brands in many ways. First, they do not have to worry about running out of space. This means they don't have to hold "on-site" inventory and they can offer more products in a virtual space.
Second, they can track sales online through various tracking codes allowing the formation of affiliate partnerships, influencer relationships, and viral marketing trends which lowers CAC and increases margins across the entire sales cycle.
Third, virtual stores (and the conversational commerce, and AR/ VR tools that support them) let retailers collect rich data to learn more about their customers.
With customers' permission, they can use these platforms to find out more about what customers like and how they prefer to shop. This information helps the store make its marketing better and give customers a better experience when shopping. It also helps the store sell more things.
For example, Humankind's concierge commerce software allows customers to text directly with a product expert or personal shopper. Using surveys, quizzes, and real customer conversations the brand can understand their customer on a deeper level. This rich customer data is then used to create better marketing and more personalized experiences for each shopper which in turn builds relationships and brand loyalty.
Humankind doesn't currently offer an AR/ VR experience, but customers like Saucony have found that conversational commerce adds to the effectiveness of their virtual retail store by answering customers' questions in real-time and building brand loyalty through 1:1 human connection.
Convenience and accessibility are the other significant advantages of virtual retail experiences. The days of geographical limitations and restricted store hours are gone - in their stead, virtual retail stores allow consumers to shop from the comfort of their own homes at any time. What's more, virtual retail experiences are not limited to specific locations, making it possible for customers to browse, save, and purchase products from around the globe with just a few clicks.
The ultimate in customer convenience.
Virtual retail stores offer another benefit. They make shopping better for the customer. Instead of going online to a store like Amazon, where you pick your own product and go through the full checkout experience, more of a DIY option…
Virtual retail experiences offer guidance, real-time assistance, and automation of aspects that could be frustrating to a customer. They also make it easier to provide personalized touches and special offers, like virtual try-ons or discounts for loyal customers. This increases the likelihood of purchase and customer satisfaction.
Imagine for a moment, going to OLAPLEX’s website to buy a new haircare product. There are tons of options and choosing one is difficult - especially if you're a first-time shopper.
Instead, using Humankind's conversational commerce software, you can chat with a real human product expert - click one button and you're met with helpful product advisors, who guide you through the selection process. They ask about your hair type, and recent changes in color or style, before suggesting the best product for you.
Finally, they show you different options and even provide styling tips to help make sure you're getting the absolute most out of your purchase - a personalized, frictionless shopping experience that is hard to recreate in physical stores. That is what makes virtual retail experiences so powerful.
Or, let's talk about Saucony, which can use your iPhone's Lidar capability to put the shoes or outfit that you're considering into your environment. Now go stand in a mirror and see the product on your body…
With today's virtual retail experiences, customers can visualize products in a virtual environment, try on virtual clothing, talk to real people, or explore 3D representations of items. This interactive and engaging experience enhances customer satisfaction (CSAT) and reduces the need for physical interactions.
This demonstrates how different types of technology live in the eCommerce ecosystem to create personalized, virtual experiences that will keep customers coming back time and time again.
There's no doubt that shopping online has changed the way people buy things. Other than buying food, people don't shop at physical stores as much anymore, because it is easier to shop online.
Large mall developers have experienced huge losses as the online experience has changed the dynamic of retail. It is no longer necessary to go into a store and spend hours shopping. Instead, people can get what they need in a few clicks and have it delivered right to their doorsteps.
The rise of online shopping has definitely had an impact on small businesses. Small business owners face increased competition from larger online retailers. But what's interesting about this trend is that technology is giving SMBs a competitive advantage that they never had before.
A few years ago, a small Tailor on Savile Row in London never would've had a customer in Dubai - today, that's changed. With Lidar technology, we're one generation from being able to purchase truly bespoke items through virtual retail experiences - which means that today, a small business can now compete with the largest fashion brands on the planet.
So we all know that the world has changed, as have the shopping habits of the people in it. The technology companies that support retail brands and eCommerce are now in a race to offer better and more immersive shopping experiences.
In order to create a seamless transition from physical stores to online stores, retailers need to focus on creating an integrated omnichannel experience that merges the virtual with the physical. With this approach, shoppers can get everything they are looking for - product selection, availability, customer service, and payment options - in one place.
In today's modern retail environment, imagine what you can accomplish with just a few clicks. Consumers no longer need to navigate through crowded stores, fight to be first for a sale, or wait in long checkout lines. Online shopping provides the convenience of browsing extensive product catalogs, comparing prices, and paying with a single click.
Customers can now browse reviews, research products, and find the best deals without ever leaving the comfort of their favorite couch. The combination of convenience, ease of use, personalized experiences, and competitive price transparency makes online shopping appealing to customers. These factors and several more are the driving factors in the rise of eCommerce.
We've now entered the digital age. In the industrial revolution, the rapid developments in construction techniques, and other things allowed brick-and-mortar, retail stores on every corner.
Today, the digital revolution is providing the same opportunities for virtual retail.
In the digital age, retailers are using technology in place of brick-and-mortar, to create a connected virtual shopping experience. Utilizing 360-degree cameras, AI, AR, and VR, retailers are able to create an immersive in-store experience online. But we're missing something.
The isolation the people felt during C19 brought a new data point to the mainstream that we'd never considered. The power of 1:1 human connection. In the past humans have always been together. We worked together, went to school together, and lived in communities together all the way back to the earliest days of recorded history.
With C19, things changed, and humans experienced isolation for the first time in 100 years. As PwC began to study the effects this isolation had on consumers, they uncovered an interesting data point that's not talked about enough in eCommerce circles.
They found that more than 82% of the shoppers wanted more human interaction in the buying experience- and they'd be willing to pay more for it. Let me say that again. More than 8 out of 10 of your consumers want more human connection in the virtual retail shopping experience.
This is why Humankind was formed. After studying more than 1,000,000 customer interactions at the biggest retail brands, our Co-Founder and CEO, David Weissman realized that customers expected more human connection when they shopped and that existing technology in the industry was not providing this experience.
That's why Humankind is now creating a connected concierge commerce platform that merges the convenience of online shopping with the human touch points customers expect from an in-store shopping experience.
This brings us to the next piece of the puzzle... meeting and exceeding customers' expectations.
One of the key advantages of virtual shopping experiences is the ability to create a seamless shopping experience with personalized recommendations that are easy to access even from a mobile phone.
I've heard it said that a modern iPhone has more computational power than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. With that kind of power, it's no wonder that retailers are now able to leverage SMS technology to customize and personalize the virtual environment for each customer.
Virtual representations, human conversations, Ai, and augmented reality (AR) play a pivotal role in enhancing the virtual shopping experience to meet the customer's expectations.
Creating a seamless virtual retail experience is currently possible through a handful of technologies. Ocavu will allow you to put your products in a customers environment virtually, Humankind will allow your customers to access personal shoppers who can guide them through the buying experience even after they've "left your virtual store," and XR Labs is creating a real-time 3D shopping experience that will enable customers to pick up and interact with the products in virtual reality.
These technologies (and more in the works), will be pivotal as customer expectations continue to grow and the virtual shopping experience continues to evolve. The new normal is here, and it's time for retailers to embrace the technology available and continue to innovate in order to keep up with customer expectations. These virtual retail experiences are here, and they won't be going away anytime soon. With access to a few platforms, some tweaks, and updates, your customers will be able to experience an immersive shopping experience.
New technologies like AI, machine learning, conversational commerce, and IoT will make it more efficient and personalized. Retailers need to learn about these new technologies so they can use them in their virtual stores.
For example, AI can be used to make recommendations tailored to customers’ individual preferences. Remote concierges can also provide personalized shopping, and answer customers' questions in real-time - and personal shoppers can connect with customers on the most powerful channel, SMS.
One of the most promising technologies transforming the retail industry is virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR allows customers to immerse themselves in virtual shopping environments, offering a highly interactive and realistic experience. AR, on the other hand, overlays digital information onto the physical world, enabling customers to visualize products in their own surroundings.
These technologies have the power to bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds in such a way that customers have a hard time seeing the differences between virtual and reality. Retailers can use these VR and AR to showcase their products, explain their features in-depth and help customers make better purchase decisions.
At this point, you may be thinking, what are the biggest considerations, challenges, and other factors to consider as we're looking at adopting new technologies for our brand?
It's crucial to consider a few key factors. Firstly, take a careful look at which technologies are compatible with your existing infrastructure, software, and systems. You may be working on initiatives internally that have to be put on pause for a moment as you consider which platforms integrate well with the customer experience you want to create in the future.
Many of these technologies are not yet fully compatible with one another so integration challenges can be an issue. Additionally, you'll need to ensure your team is trained on the use of these technologies so that you can scale quickly and efficiently in order to meet customer expectations.
Finally, while it's important to consider the financial investment associated with these new technologies, understand that they may save money in the long run by providing customers with a more seamless shopping experience and cutting down on manual processes.
Hypothetically, you've chosen 2- 3 pieces of Technology that you now want to build upon as the cornerstone of the customer experience with your brand.
Where do you start?
Team training and virtual clienteling.
Virtual clienteling is a strategy that leverages technology to build and maintain strong customer relationships in the virtual retail space. It involves personalized interactions, tailored recommendations, and seamless communication channels to enhance the customer experience.
Humankind's conversational commerce software is a key example of a platform that supports virtual clienteling and enables retailers to create a personalized connection with customers. Humankind provides surveys, quizzes, and other rich data collection features that allow you to understand your customers and deliver a connected human experience that they will love (OLAPLEX uses us to generate a 4.94 CSAT).
Our solution offers personal shoppers for your brand the platform to respond quickly to customer inquiries, scale conversations, provide personalized product recommendations and schedule follow-ups.
Virtual clienteling is beneficial to both customers and retailers alike. Customers feel appreciated and connected when they receive individual attention and recommendations that are tailored to their preferences. This increases customer loyalty, brand recognition, and lifetime value.
Retailers also benefit from virtual clienteling, as it enables them to deliver a highly personalized experience that leads to increased sales and better customer engagement. Additionally, retailers can leverage data collected through virtual clienteling for targeted marketing campaigns that drive loyalty and repeat purchases.
One of the biggest challenges in scaling virtual clienteling is the balance of automation and digital tools with "human connection." While technology can automate certain processes and make them more efficient, it's important to remember that customers still crave the human element of shopping.
Humankind allows retailers to create both real-time and automated conversations with customers in a personalized way by utilizing tools that supercharge human connection, not replace it.
Retail brands should aim to blend automated processes with authentic and empathetic customer connections to keep a healthy balance of both. By combining the benefits of technology-driven solutions and the human touch, retailers can create a holistic and engaging virtual retail experience that fosters trust, loyalty, and long-term customer relationships.
So you've made up your mind to create virtual retail experiences for your customers…
Hopefully, in the sections above, we've provided key insights into understanding the potential of virtual retail and how it can be used to create meaningful customer experiences - but brands venturing into the "virtual retail space" should prioritize understanding their target audience first.
Once this is complete, invest in the infrastructure necessary to create experiences that your customers will love and even crave while continuously adapting and evolving their preferences. This is a crucial step. Be sure to analyze data, gather feedback, and iterate to improve the virtual shopping experience continually.
Virtual retailing offers the potential for brands to create meaningful experiences for their customers now and in the future. By leveraging conversational tools and digital tools combined with real human interaction, retailers can create customer relationships that drive loyalty and repeat purchases.
In closing, here are the steps to implementing a powerfully connected Virtual Retail Experience:
By following these steps, retailers can ensure that their virtual retail experiences are meaningful and successful - creating a positive customer experience in an increasingly digital world.
Humankind's conversational commerce platform provides retailers with a unique opportunity to connect with their customers on an even deeper level, offering a personalized experience that is tailored to their needs. To see how it works, book your demo to chat with someone on our team.