The retail landscape has changed forever.
It's the same for the online shopping experience too - thanks to virtual shopping.
But what is virtual shopping, exactly?
How do you offer your customers a virtual shopping experience, delivering the same level of service online as you would in-store?
In this article, we'll be covering all the bases. You'll learn:
- The definition of virtual shopping and virtual stores
- How virtual shopping works in practice
- How virtual experiences are changing the retail landscape - and the future of retail - as we know it
- The difference between standard customer service and customer clienteling
- The fastest way to offer virtual shopping via your website or app
Let's get started.
What is virtual shopping?
The term virtual shopping refers to an e-commerce service that allows customers to browse and purchase items online as they normally would in-store.
In simple terms, it’s all about using technology to bring the human element to e-commerce.
This is achieved by adopting virtual shopping channels like live chat, video chat, and cobrowsing.
These virtual channels are operated by customer service representatives or contact centre agents, either working in-store or remotely.
They enable retailers to offer a seamless experience and build a human connection - whether they're serving their customers in person or online.
Virtual shopping: a rising ecommerce trend
The popularity of virtual shopping and video shopping has been on the rise for many years, but the COVID 19 pandemic was a key factor in bringing virtual stores to the mainstream.
With lockdowns taking place across the globe over the last couple of years, online shopping levels have surged.
For instance, between March 2020 and February 2021, 75% of UK shoppers admitted to shopping more online.
But even with lockdowns aside, during this stage of the pandemic, customers around the world were more and more likely to avoid public places.
It meant more shoppers were taking to their desktops and mobile devices rather than their local physical store.
The retail industry took note.
As store foot-traffic fell and the level of furloughed store associates rose, retailers were keen to take advantage of the boom in online sessions.
How does a virtual store work
A virtual store connects a website's e-commerce platform with live chat, video chat, and other intelligent contact channels.
This allows businesses to communicate directly with their online customers as if they were visiting a retail store.
From there, virtual shopping assistants can assist customers with product details, advice, and guidance.
It means that they can offer their customers bespoke clienteling to help complete purchases.
What is a virtual shopping assistant?
A virtual assistant is a contact centre agent or customer service representative who assists your customers through virtual means.
But with virtual shopping technology like mobile video chat, many retailers now also leverage their in-store sales associates too.
In-store virtual assistants
One of the key reasons why virtual shopping is cited as the future of retail is because of the seamless blending of online and offline experiences.
This seamlessness is fully demonstrated with in-store virtual assistants.
For example, retailers that adopt channels like Talkative's video chat can supply their in-store team with mobile tablets, virtually connecting staff to an e-commerce app or platform.
In turn, store associates are able to assist online customers during store downtime.
They can provide online sales assistance and support in real time, while demonstrating the physical product.
This is great news for customers and employees alike.
By offering a virtual insight into your shop or store, consumers are able to examine real product packaging and specifications.
Meanwhile, your sales team are able to keep busy and support their branch with additional sales, greatly aiding job security and satisfaction.
Customer service vs clienteling
Virtual stores create a seamless link between virtual shopping experiences and physical ones.
As such, businesses that adopt virtual selling technology need to understand the difference between standard customer service and customer clienteling.
A few years back, it might have been enough to offer basic customer service from your e-commerce website.
With the advent of virtual shopping, virtual clienteling is soon to become a prerequisite for many online shoppers.
Customer service defined
In broad terms, customer service entails any essential support that a business provides its customers.
The term is most often used to describe reactive, one-off instances.
For example, imagine a customer is shopping at a local shoe store. They have a query about a particular style that’s caught their interest.
If an associate answers their query with a simple one-off answer, their conversation would be classed as a customer service interaction.
As you might imagine, this kind of service is imperative for satisfying customers in both online and brick and mortar commerce.
What sets customer clienteling apart from standard customer service is clienteling's proactive and bespoke approach.
This vastly improves the customer's retail experience.
Let's return to our previous example of a customer visiting a shoe store.
For the retail associates to offer clienteling, they would be more likely to continue the interaction beyond the customer's initial question.
They'd be much more likely to greet all their customers as they entered too, assisting them with any queries and questions.
They'd even assist the customer with their browsing, delivering a dedicated and personalized approach for maximum customer satisfaction.
Retailers leveraging physical stores have always understood the importance of clienteling.
Thanks to virtual shopping experiences, online customers can now enjoy the same level of customer care online.
This is achieved by building a lasting relationship with customers through additional contact - either post-enquiry or post-sale.
That way, your staff can inform customers about stock or delivery updates, or simply follow-up with the customer if they are still deciding on a purchase.
Virtual associates can even keep in touch with customers for the long term, asking them how they are enjoying their purchase and providing extra added value through product care tips and advice.
It’s another great way to exceed customer expectations and deliver a fantastic, personalized experience.
The virtual store in practice
To further illustrate how virtual shopping works, let's look at a quick example.
Outdoor Voices is a US brand that specializes in technical apparel for recreation.
Thanks to Talkative’s video chat, they also specialize in leveraging virtual shopping to offer an enhanced omnichannel experience.
Since deploying video chat, Outdoor Voices’ in-house stylists can now offer personalized clienteling both in-store and online.
For example, if a customer has a question about how a product fits, the brand’s store staff can use video to offer guidance on sizing and fit recommendations.
It means Outdoor Voices can serve their site's visitors and improve employee and customer engagement, all at the same time.
The benefits of virtual store shopping
When it comes to virtual shopping, there are many benefits for both retailers and customers alike.
Here's a quick insight into what bringing the in-store experience online can do for your business:
1. Virtual shopping adds a human touch to your online store
Even e-commerce giants suffer problems like shopping cart abandonment and low retention levels.
This is partly down to the disconnect customers face when shopping online.
While contact channels like chatbots and email allow consumers to interact with your business, these channels don't foster the same level of connection that retailers can deliver in-store.
This is where virtual shopping comes in.
By connecting with your customers through video chat, you can offer virtual clienteling that sparks delight with your customers.
It’ll also greatly set your brand apart from the competition.
2. Virtual stores provide customer and contact centre convenience
Contact channels like video chat can help you offer customers a more convenient shopping experience.
With 70% of customer favouring a fast and convenient customer experience above all else, it certainly pays to provide hassle-free customer service and support.
Virtual shopping via video chat helps provide convenience in two main ways.
Firstly, customers can experience in-store service from anywhere at any time - whether at home or on the go.
Secondly, the average video call actually takes less time than a live chat interaction.
While the average live chat conversation takes around ten minutes to conclude, video chat interactions average only six.
It means that virtual experiences can save time for your customers and help you meet your customer service goals too.
3. Virtual online shopping increases sales
The added convenience virtual shopping provides also helps retailers increase online conversions and remote sales.
In fact, for customers who use video chat, there’s a 30% increase in average order value.
This is because virtual tools like video chat allow you to provide a more human checkout journey.
Unlike regular e-commerce stores, sites and apps with a virtual element can leverage their sales team to build trust and rapport.
In turn, the likelihood of cart abandonment and lost sales greatly decreases - especially if store associates use virtual clienteling tactics like follow-ups.
4. Virtual shopping gets consumers talking
Word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool for customer perception - both in person and on social media.
As such, virtual shopping gives you the edge over your competitors by grabbing consumers' attention and demonstrating true dedication to the best retail experiences.
It means more new customers and new markets for you to target, as well as a better reputation overall.
5. Virtual shopping supports physical retail stores
Virtual stores provide a real glimpse of what to expect at your physical stores, inciting more real-life visits.
Leveraging in-store staff members as virtual assistants also supports both online and offline locations.
It means that your physical presence doesn’t need to compete with your e-commerce store.
Instead, the two can complement each other in a seamless customer experience.
With 90% of purchases still taking place in real life rather than online, it’s a huge growth opportunity for retailers looking to merge their online and offline channels.
Examples of virtual shopping and virtual clienteling
Alongside Outdoor Voices, countless other brands have revitalized the retail experience thanks to virtual shopping.
Take inspiration from the following examples to get a better idea of how you could adopt virtual shopping for your e-commerce store.
Luluemon is a Canadian activewear retailer that uses virtual shopping technology to create a seamless customer experience.
It means their sales team can offer personalized, virtual customer service and clienteling, just like their retail store colleagues.
In turn, the shoppers using the brand’s video chat option are 4x more likely to make a purchase.
It’s proof that virtual shopping via video chat is a boon for both customers and brands alike.
The brand sells yoga clothing and accessories through both online stores and brick-and-mortar shop-fronts.
They're a prime example of how best to offer customer service and clienteling in both physical and digital forms.
For example, Lululemon trains their in-store customer assistants to provide expert on-hand advice to their customers.
They even go the extra mile to foster customer engagement by holding regular yoga workshops in their retail stores.
Meanwhile, the brand also offers video chat appointments through its website.
Bravissimo is another leading retailer that uses Talkative's video chat to offer bespoke online fitting appointments.
If a customer has a query while searching their site, they can book an appointment for a one-to-one video call.
After discussing their desired purchase with a product expert, the customer can either complete their purchase online or check stock availability at one of Bravissimo's nearest brick and mortar stores.
It means that the real-time connection fostered online can also help increase foot traffic at Bravissimo’s physical locations.
Gharyal is an e-commerce platform that deals in luxury watches and accessories.
As such, the company were keen to give their online customers the same level of dedication and clienteling that they would expect from a high-end retail store.
To achieve this, Gharyal deployed video chat to provide the best digital customer care possible.
Through video, clients can now speak to one of the company's expert watch specialists.
It means they can offer bespoke, hands-on advice for every single customer.
It's not just retailers that can offer virtual shopping experiences or virtual clienteling.
For proof, look no further than the Internova Travel Group.
Internova is an international family of travel brands that have adopted video chat to spearhead its Book Human travel campaign.
Rather than focusing on automation and algorithms, Internova seeks to bring a more human element to the process of booking a holiday online.
Thanks to Talkative's video chat, Internova can offer all its online customers face-to-face advice and assistance.
It means more convenience for customers when booking future holidays and more business for Internova and its partners.
The fastest way to offer virtual shopping from your website or app
Want to bring the in-store experience online for your customers?
The smartest way to boost your online customer experience is to deploy a real-time customer engagement platform like Talkative.
Here's how our contact channels connect to provide your site's visitors with a more human online experience.
Deploying Talkative for virtual shopping
Talkative's range of intelligent communication channels is specifically built to foster more human digital interactions. Here’s how.
With Talkative's video chat, our customers have boosted sales and conversions with both on-demand and scheduled video appointments.
What's more, our mobile app integration means you can leverage in-store virtual assistants too.
This enables you to deploy video using both desktop and mobile agents, giving you greater control over how you communicate online.
In turn, you can give your online customers the same level of care and dedication that they'd receive in-store.
Whether you offer video chat with the help of a contact centre team or in-store assistants, Talkative's video chat is proven to have a significant impact on customer satisfaction.
As we’ve previously seen, 94% of customers surveyed in the moment rated video chat as a positive experience.
It makes video chat the primary contact channel for offering a truly seamless virtual shopping experience.
Live web chat is another smart choice for businesses that want to complement the virtual retail experience.
This communication channel is a fantastic tool for general customer service and support.
But by deploying it alongside video chat and other virtual channels, live chat agents can communicate essential information at lightning-fast speed while customers enjoy a more personal interaction.
It makes enhanced live chat the perfect complement to video.
Cobrowse & screen share
Cobrowse and screen sharing is another great way to provide more personalized assistance to your website's visitors.
You can use it to view and annotate a customer's screen in real-time, while also sharing navigation to improve your website journey.
Talkative's page push technology even allows you to better direct customers to different web pages with ease.
It makes cobrowsing the next level of virtual customer service, helping you to improve efficiency while increasing customer satisfaction.
WhatsApp & SMS live chat
Social media messaging via live chat is another great channel to consider if you’re looking to offer virtual shopping experiences to your customers.
You can use it to keep in touch with your customers post-sale or post-enquiry, fostering stronger human relationships through virtual clienteling.
What’s more, Talkative’s solution enables you to message your customers from the same dashboard as all your other intelligent contact channels.
Couple these facts together, and it makes WhatsApp and SMS another fantastic tool for stimulating customer engagement through virtual shopping.
Virtual shopping is heralded as the future of retail for a good reason.
Adopting virtual technology is a key tactic for creating a more human approach to online and offline interactions.
By using channels like video chat, live chat, cobrowsing, and social media messaging, brands can better engage their customers for a more powerful and personal experience.
Of course, there are countless ways brands can use these virtual channels across many industries.
To discover how you can start offering virtual shopping from your website or app, book a demo with Talkative today.
We’ll show you how to engage your customers the smarter way.