What is virtual retail? The concept as a whole has gained popularity recently as the world shifts to digital - but we hear the terms, "virtual retail," and "virtual shopping" so much today that most of us just assume they're referencing an eCommerce store.
While this is partially true, an example of virtual retail would better be described as the customer's experience (CX) while shopping at an online store. Through the concept of "virtual retail," customers can shop from anywhere and have the same in-store experience they would have if they were physically present in the store.
This seemingly recent concept is actually more than 100 years old and began when store associates would use what was then called "retail clienteling" to collect a customer's preferences, sizes, and personalized details about them to create a customer experience that was second to none.
Today, the "Virtual Shopping Experience" is no different. Companies are using conversational commerce software, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other technologies to provide customers with the same type of personalized, in-store experience - but virtually.
The goal of virtual retail is to give customers a unique and personalized experience that's so memorable, that shopping with anyone else would feel antiquated.
Technology has blazed the trail for many of these new innovations. From virtual clienteling to virtual shopping assistants, customers now have access to a wide range of features that provide them with the same level of service they would get in-store.
With the help of AI and machine learning, companies can capture rich customer data, preferences, sizes, product searches, and other data points to create a more targeted customer experience...And, recently, AR/VR environments have been launched in many eCommerce stores to actually see the products you're considering in their natural environment before you purchase them.
These virtual shopping examples are just the tip of the iceberg. As technology continues to evolve, so will the face of virtual retail. Think of virtual shopping malls that you can walk through with a VR headset. Virtual shopping websites with "fit-check" visualizations provided by your iPhone's Lidar technology, or holograms of virtual shopping assistants that can answer your questions in real-time.
The possibilities for virtual retail are endless, and they're changing the way we shop - one click at a time. With the concepts of virtual retail, virtual shopping apps, and the technologies to support them, customers now have access to the same personalized experience that only luxury retailers would've offered just a few years ago.
One such technology that you should already be using is concierge commerce software by Humankind. In a world where many companies have focussed on Ai, Humankind decided to build a conversational commerce software that offers one distinct difference from the rest. Human connection.
After studying more than 1,000,000 customer interactions with some of the biggest brands, and looking at data from PwC, and many other consumer data collectors, the Humankind team concluded that human connection is still the most important factor in customer experience.
That’s why we created our conversational commerce software, to bridge the gap between technology and customer service. Our platform was designed to engage with customers on their terms while providing excellent shopping experiences that are both memorable and enjoyable for your customers.
More on that in a bit...
Let's talk about the impact that these technologies will have on customers. We're just beginning the bell curve on many of these technologies and the "WOW" factor alone for early adopters of these tools will generate enough buzz to bring droves of new customers to your brand.
But, what's even more exciting is the potential for virtual clienteling. Imagine a world where customers can scan themselves with an iPhone that automatically enters their sizes into the brand's interface. They can then browse through the virtual store, with the help of a personal shopper that guides them through the experience from beginning to end.
Not only does this create a more seamless shopping experience for customers, but it also allows companies to capture detailed customer data that they can use to personalize future shopping experiences.
This is obviously a "future state," but we have access to the tools to make this a reality today. Brands like Saucony Shoes already use Humankind's conversational commerce software to create 1:1 human connections that personalize the virtual shopping experience, and AR to show customers the products that they're interested in, in their own environment…
This is huge for getting a customer to "see themselves" in a product before they make a purchase.
The rise of virtual retail has spurred the development of more sophisticated platforms - and as we've discussed in the previous sections, these innovations are just getting started.
For instance, Amazon Go uses computer vision and deep learning to enable customers to shop in a virtual store without ever standing in line. Apple's ARKit allows developers to create incredibly detailed augmented reality experiences, while Google's Cardboard platform is opening up the world of virtual reality to millions of consumers.
At Humankind, we're taking virtual retail to the next level with our conversational commerce software. As we research how Ai-powered solutions can drive better customer experiences (CX) we want to use them to supercharge human connection, not replace humans.
The more we study what shoppers want, the more we realize that customers desire human connection. Even crave it. The isolation caused by C19 and other world events has made it clear that customers want personal experiences - and with Humankind, you can offer a virtual retail platform that helps bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences. Even so, according to this mediapost.com article, “Youth are expecting brands to be almost human, to be personal, to apologize and be real.”
One of the most compelling benefits of virtual shopping is the heightened level of customer engagement. By providing a dynamic and interactive shopping experience, retailers can hold the attention of customers for longer periods, potentially leading to increased sales.
We've already seen these effects on brands that we work with. OLAPLEX Haircare saw a huge jump in customer satisfaction scores after integrating Humankind's conversational commerce into its website. Giving their product experts access to a platform that would help them guide shoppers through the buying experience has recently increased their CSAT score to 4.94.
Another advantage of virtual retail is the potential cost savings for retailers. By moving processes online, merchants can reduce overhead costs associated with brick-and-mortar stores such as rent and employees.
Whether that looks like reducing the size of a retail store or eliminating brick-and-mortar altogether, virtual retail can be an incredibly cost-effective solution for retailers.
With virtual shopping, customers can visualize products in real-world contexts or try them on virtually. This level of interaction provides customers with a better understanding of the product, enabling more informed purchasing decisions.
It also gets us closer to providing a true in-store experience that customers can access from the comfort of their own homes.
Humankind collects rich customer data to personalize the customer experience, so that personal shoppers, virtual and remote concierges, and product experts are armed with the knowledge they need to provide tailored, personalized advice.
This helps create a more meaningful connection between shoppers and retailers and increases the likelihood of repeat sales as customers get to know their virtual advisor by name and have an actual number to text them on.
Imagine your customers having a phone number that they can save in their phone to text when they need something. This also offers huge benefits to your brand. Want to sell out your new product launch? Text customers who are already primed to buy and who you know are a fit for your new product.
All of the above factors lead to reduced returns. As customers have a better understanding of the product before purchasing, the likelihood of returns due to dissatisfaction with the product is significantly reduced.
Virtual shopping is not a fleeting trend but a stepping stone into the future of retail. As technology continues to evolve, the line between online and offline shopping will blur further. With advancements in VR and AR technologies, we can expect even more immersive and personalized virtual shopping experiences.
If you'd like to see how Humankind is helping brands and retailers create these personalized experiences for their customers, book your demo to chat with someone on our team today. We'd love to show you why brands like Taylormade Golf, Saucony, REN Skincare, and OLAPLEX use our solution to create real customer connections.