Retailers are using VR and AR technologies to create ecommerce stores, known as virtual stores, allowing consumers to browse for products as they would in store. The aim is to bridge the gap between online and physical stores giving shoppers a true omnichannel experience.

Advantages:

  • Higher sales.

Virtual stores are a more practical choice for shoppers because the experience can be smooth and frictionless.  

Since it’s online, it’s much easier to include fast access to detailed product information, search and comparisons. Sales staff are also available to answer questions and provide recommendation via chat bots and video conversations.

Being able to see how products fit on the body or in a room through AR gives shoppers more confidence in their choice and that the price is right. This has proven to increase sales.

Furthermore, McKinsey’s research shows, consumers who shop exclusively online are more inclined to enjoy virtual shopping since they are tech-savvy consumers who do not use brick-and-mortar stores.

  • Higher engagement.

Virtual store shoppers are more engaged for many reasons but enhanced customer journey is one of the biggest reasons why consumers spend more time in virtual stores and show higher engagement.

It’s been proven that higher engagement has a positive impact on conversion, customers retention, and loyalty.

  • Data collection.

Data collection in an online environment has been practiced for a long time with the help of Google Analytics and other companies. Retailers have been using the data to create personalised shopping experiences for their target customers.

Collecting behavioural data and understanding consumers’ likes and dislikes helps retailers upsell and cross-sell resulting in larger basket sizes. Data backed, or machine learning recommendations based, up-selling and cross-selling is helping consumers spend up to 70% more, according to Shopify.

Disadvantages:

  • In-store experience

The biggest disadvantage to virtual stores is the inability to touch and feel products. Many shoppers still go in-store to interact with products before purchasing.

In-store shopping remains one of the most popular channels with 80% of global consumers preferring to shop in-store post pandemic. No amount of influencer partnerships, generous return policies, or product videos can replicate the in-store experience for a large number of shoppers.

  • High set up costs

It can be expensive to create a new virtual store. The technology is expensive; and mapping out an existing store alone could be an expensive task. A team is required to maintain the store and connecting it with other omnichannel may prove difficult.

Thus, for many retailers it may be more cost effective to focus on improving existing stores. For example, in-store analytics is fantastic for gathering behavioural data, which is used to improve store experience.

Examples of virtual stores:

  • Nike

The Nike Fit App is an AR based app to virtually try on trainers. It also provides accurate recommendations on products and sizes. Nike says this feature significantly increases conversion as consumers are more confident about their choice.

Nike also hosted a fashion show within the video game Roblox. Roblox players are able to dress up their digital characters in Nike gear.

  • UNTUCKit

UNTUCKit has chat, text, or video options to help consumers find the perfect fit. Since launching the virtual clienteling in May 2020, the company has initiated over 60,000 chats with online customers, within 24 hours of chatting 88% of shoppers purchase, and the customer return rate to chat is 17%.

  • Charlotte Tilbury

Charlotte Tilbury has a virtual store where consumers can browser products, speak with a consultant and make purchases. It recently added a feature to invite friends to join making shopping more experiential.

In summary, virtual stores are great for branding and adding another channel for consumers to interact with the brand and products. However, not all retailers have the resources to invest in such technology. It may be easier for some retailers to invest in technologies to improve existing channels such as the brick-and-mortar stores.

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