COVID 19 & Virtual Shopping

On the 11th of August 1994, Dan Kohn completed what is widely regarded as the first legitimate online transaction on his website NetMarket. What started with the sale of Sting’s CD, Ten Summoner’s Tales over the internet, has now grown to be one of the biggest industries in the world, completing a total of $3.5 trillion of sales in 2019.

As a consequence of the shift created by the pandemic, online shopping has grown even bigger, accounting for more than 10 percent of all retail sales across the United States. According to a study conducted by OBRELO, approximately 2.05 billion of the world’s population now shop online.

A survey published by UNCTAD in October showed that most product categories have witnessed increases of up to 10 points since the outbreak of COVID 19.  Although the number of online shoppers has soared in the past couple of months, there’s still a lot of doubt amongst buyers.

“Is this shop legit?” “Will I like this product when it eventually arrives?” “Is there someone I can interact with when shopping?” these are some of the most popular fears voiced by online shoppers. All of these fears and many others are addressed by Virtual shops.

What is Virtual Shopping?

Virtual shopping allows online stores that conduct business over the internet, to give customers the same in real life (IRL) feel as the traditional store down the street.

Unlike online stores where items are static with long, boring descriptions, virtual shops take customers on a tour around the store, showing the customers a video (live in some cases) of the products as they progress. Virtual stores conduct their virtual meetings on Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, even on Facebook and Instagram.

The experience you get from virtual shops is quite different, as retails customize their services to best suit their customer base and the type of products they offer. These are the most common forms of virtual shops available.

Virtual Shopping Appointments

Hosting virtual appointments is another approach now used by Virtual Shops. It works like every other appointment, only that you don’t need to be on the premises of the shop when it’s time for your appointment.

Via video chats, buyers go on a one-on-one shopping session with a sales associate. Picture visiting a shop and having a sales rep walk you through the shop answering all your questions along the way and giving you advice, priceless, isn’t it.

As you move through the shop guided by your aide, the items you pick are added to a virtual shopping cart. Unlike traditional carts, these carts calculate the number of its contents automatically.

After completing your virtual tour, the next question is how is payment made? Payment is done online through a payment agency chosen by the business owner. Depending on the shop, payments can be made via credit cards, bank transfers, cryptocurrencies, or a payment gateway.

Video Shopping

Video shopping takes a simpler route. Here sellers upload a review of their products on their stories, so buyers see and get full knowledge of the products they are buying. This service is currently available on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and several other social media platforms.

This route is more ideal for retail brands and retailers with a small range of products to connect with their customers on a level impossible with contemporary online shops. Some shops also offer buyers the option of requesting an in-shop review on the item(s) they want to purchase.

Virtual Assistants (Virtual Bot)

These are software solutions that aid online visitors with text-based interactions. Virtual assistants in form of bots have been around for a long time but are beginning to grow in popularity.

If you have ever visited the website of a shop and a greeting pops up, then you’ve probably encountered a virtual shopping assistant. Virtual assistants are designed to answer the questions of customers, promote products on the web page,

A benefit of running a virtual assistant is that it gives both the business owners and buyers 24 hours of support every day of the year at a much lower cost than human agents. They are also the quickest means of getting information on products on a particular website.

Virtual assistants have been customized by shop owners to answer more than generic questions. Some virtual assistants can answer personalized questions, refer customers to products based on demand, and in some cases help customers schedule an appointment with customer service.

Although offering a different experience, virtual assistants are growing better with advancements in technology. According to Statista, 34% of online shoppers would rather work with chatbots than human support agents.

Companies

As the cost of implementing virtual and augmented reality continues to drop, forward-thinking companies and business owners are picking up the technology to improve their businesses.

According to the Wall Street Journal, virtual shops are becoming popular because they provide a new experience for those customers who miss the “in-store feeling.” And, online retailers are beginning to strategically implement the concept to suit the uniqueness of their businesses. Although the list is endless, here are some notable companies that have implemented the technology:

1.     Burberry

In 2016, Burberry became one of the first fashion brands to integrate a virtual shopping assistant into their framework. Burberry’s virtual assistant which was designed to give customers a behind-the-scenes look at their collections displayed at the New York Fashion Week now helps customers locate physical stores, make purchases, and get in touch with consultants.

2.     CanadaGoose

The winter clothing manufactures, CanadaGoose, runs one of the best implementations of virtual shopping appointments. The clothier brand lets you choose a date and time for your appointment, just like you would when visiting a store.

Appointments are conducted via a one-on-one video meeting with a sales rep who would help customers get the best fitting clothes, give advice, and make recommendations.

3.     Gucci

In June 2020, Gucci Live was launched by the luxury brand that allows customers to communicate with their staff over video calls. Customers use the remote calling features to purchase items from Gucci stores.

4.     Ralph Lauren

Another clothier brand that employs virtual appointments in its online sales is Ralph Lauren. Customers can book appointments to visit their top-of-the-line store in Beverly Hills. Over a video call, customers can take a tour through the departments and catalogs of any store guided by a sales rep who is more than qualified to make suggestions and recommendations.

Benefits of Virtual Shops Over Regular Online Shops

Yes, shopping virtually is a cool new way of shopping online, but are there any added benefits?

1.     Better Customer Experience

Products are usually displayed using pictures and written descriptions of regular online shops. This form of showcasing products has led to many disputes.  Customers complain about getting the wrong color, items smaller than displayed (especially in the clothing category), generic items in place of branded items delivered.

The list of problems is almost endless, but with virtual shopping, a customer gets to assess the product via live or pre-recorded video. And in the case of virtual appointments, as questions and get the advice of a real person regarding the purchase.

Customers who sign up for virtual appointments get stellar shopping experiences. A one-on-one session where a sales agent walks you through the catalogs answering all your questions along the way.

2.     Influences the Review Scales

According to Qualtrics, 93% of online shoppers are influenced by product reviews, 97% said they don’t trust products without reviews. However, only about 5-10% of customers leave reviews on products they buy online.

Customers would trust what they see, and virtual shops give them just that; a video of the product they are about to buy. Online retailers get more information from the customers who also get more information on the products.

When asked to leave a review, approximately 70% of customers would, retailers can leverage virtual appointments to get customers to leave reviews on their products and businesses.

3.     Better Conversion Rates

Most online shoppers spend all day looking through hundreds adding hundreds of similar items to their carts without buying any of them. According to Invespcro, the average global conversion rate of online shoppers in 2020 is 4.31%. This is largely due to indecisiveness.

Virtual shops have a higher conversion rate than regular online stores. Shoppers also have higher shopping intent and spend less time looking for what they need with the help provided by the sales aid.

4.     It’s the Next Big Thing

Virtual shopping is Ecommerce’s answer to how people could adapt to life after the pandemic. With more people turning to online shops for their everyday items, virtual shops are bound to excel, especially as it fixes many of the problems faced by traditional online shops.

Retailers can also study the traffic pattern of buyers on their websites using virtual assistants. This would help retailers allocate their limited staff resources to generate better sales.

5.     A Safer Means of Shopping

We have watched as the number of people considered safe to be in a gathering has dropped from thousands to hundreds, to tens. There’s usually a problem for stores to keep to the regulations put in place as a result of the pandemic.

A long queue, an uncompliant customer, are just some factors that can put customers at risk. However, these problems are solved with virtual shops. Despite the disruption caused by COVID 19, founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, still believes that customers still want that in-shop experience, hence the need for virtual shops.

Why You Should Start Your Virtual Shop Now

With the aftermath of the pandemic still lingering, it may take a little longer before a full return to brick and mortar shops is feasible. Virtual shops offer customers an alternative to physical shopping with actually being in the shops. It’s easy to see why Virtual shops are fast replacing contemporary online shops.

Bloomberg’s report estimates that by 2022, video shopping will account for 20% of all online shopping in China. The application of virtual shops will only increase as time progresses and business owners on Shopify and eBay must start creating their virtual shops.

In many ways, virtual shops are future proof. From eliminating the need for a drive to a grocery store to wheeling a shopping cart, and shopping against the elements, virtual shops provide an opportunity for customers to experience the process of shopping without physically being present.

For online retailers on Shopify, eBay, and similar platforms who are unsure about how to integrate virtual reality into their online stores or are hesitant because it may require an overhaul of their current space, there’s an easy option.

Virtual Shopping & Servv

Servv is the perfect option for SME’s looking to keep in touch with their customers via current technology. This innovative new application bridges the gap between Zoom and Shopify with a click of the button, bringing shop owners closer to their customers than they have ever been. It enables small business owners to create an experience that rivals Ralph Lauren by allowing customers to book one on one appointments with store associates. The store associate sets up a Zoom call on their phone to provide video of the items that the customer wants to see. The store associate provides in person dialogue to answer any questions the customer may have and provides additional comments to help close the sale. Download Servv today (https://servv.ai/) and realize the benefits of virtual shopping before your competitors beat you to it!

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