With about eight months into the Global pandemic, there is one thing that is certain that things will never be BAU again, especially for the Retail/Ecom segment. At the crux of these unprecedented events, there are an evident shift in customer preferences & expectations, with prime consideration towards safety and convenience.
A recent Deloitte consumer survey revealed that approximately 51% of consumers feel unsafe going to brick-and-mortar stores and over 80% are concerned for their family’s health. This has led to a change in customer behavior that is expected to drastically reduce mall visits with social distancing & stay-at-home being the ‘new normal’ in our lives.
Amidst all this change brands have responded with agility, coupled with tech transformation, to rebuild the missing connection with consumers while parallel addressing supply chain gaps. As per the Unicommerce’s E-commerce Trends Report, brand websites witnessed 88% growth in order volume as compared to 32% growth on the marketplace, thus clearly establishing the evolution in customer mindset and need to connect directly with the brands.
Shopper’s Dilemma: Ecom or In-Store?
While Retail stores are opening up in a staggered way, customer footfall is a far cry from pre-covid days. There is a huge segment of customers, who though inclined towards B&M stores and unwavering preference towards personalised guidance by brand promoters, are somehow hesitant to walk into a retail store considering health & safety reasons. It is imperative for brands to find a way to engage one-on-one with these customers by mimicking a retail store experience and replacing physical store visits with virtual conversations.
Though customer spending is timid, there is an upsurge in demand for discretionary essentials, and brands that can deploy innovative sales methodologies to provide a one-on-one connection with customers, while minimising Brick &Mortar store visits, will definitely find themselves at the top of the purchase consideration list. A clear inference could be that retail can no longer depend on 100% physical walk-ins.
On the other hand, even before lockdown, e-commerce has made steady inroads through Indian households but the pandemic story made it an absolute necessity. The inherent nature of e-commerce is NO Touch and All Access shopping experience but this comes at the cost of varying Customer Experience and loyalty towards the brand, especially in case of new-to-ecom customers or customer/s inclined to the consultation by brand promoters.
The focus is on enhancing CX on a B2C platform by driving deeper engagement with the customer & by enabling customers to interact with the brand on an Ecom platform. Hence, ecom needs to transform CX to drive a more personal & less isolated shopping experience for customers in order to improve stickiness & increase Ecom penetration
Solution: Finding the common ground!
Both B&M Retail and Ecom have varied set of challenges while catering to the fabric of customers, but there appears to be one simple, scalable & widely accepted solution viz. Leveraging virtual connect i.e. connecting over a video call, to engage with customers, on a Retail or an Etail platform. Virtual Retail, Video-Assisted Retail or Video Retail consultation as it’s being referred to, is being observed as an emerging trend that is transforming the way brands reach out to customers & also the way customers prefer to shop. It is scalable, cost-effective & a great way to enhance the omnichannel retail experience.
In a Retail store environment, this methodology helps enhance retail ROI by augmenting ‘walk-ins’ with ‘Video call-ins’, hence helping arrest, to some extent, a drop in retail sales anticipated due to low footfalls owing to customer apprehensions to walk into stores as a result of changing preferences to limit physical interactions due to health & safety concerns. Brands can also re-prioritize their retail investments since they can drive customer coverage irrespective of store presence
In an e-commerce environment, adopting the Virtual Retail approach can help the brand to have a ‘deeper engagement’ with the customer by enabling the customer to ‘interact with the brand’, with a one-on-one ‘human interaction’ which customers are likely to respond to more effectively. Hence it provides an additional layer of ‘customer connect’ on ecom, with a flavor of human-touch to help drive purchase decisions. Such technology not only provides a next-level customer experience; it also gives retailers access to valuable data that can feed into personalization algorithms or be used to optimize prices and promotions.
In Essence, as Brands migrate from Multichannel to Omnichannel customer connect there is an evident need to drive consistent customer experience and buying confidence, irrespective of channel. With Video-Assisted sales, the buyer purchase journey isn’t solely dependent on store footfalls or buyer’s online buying maturity.
Key elements to drive Virtual Retail:
- Agile Digital Marketing strategy to drive in the traffic for video demos/ consultation
- Technology platform for seamless integration & tracking of the entire flow, right from scheduling a video demo to delivering a seamless experience over the tech platform, down to capturing customer intent/ interest & sales conversions.
- Training modules to transform the Instore Brand promoters to drive effective customer engagement over a video call.
Virtual retail can certainly be that game-changer for both offline & online retail which plugs a gap in both models i.e. Over dependency on physical interactions in case of offline retail & lack of brand engagement in case of online retail.