What Is a Virtual Shopping Assistant?

As you might expect, online retail sales accelerated during the pandemic to the tune of a three per cent increase in 2020 alone. Before COVID-19, eCommerce accounted for 16 per cent of total retail sales in 2019, but it jumped to 19 per cent as shopping online became commonplace. While we still have much to learn from changing consumer behaviours post-COVID, what we do know is this: the key to differentiating industry-leading brands from laggards depends on delivering a personalized retail experience.

Undoubtedly, enabling immersive shopping that at the very least complement’s the real-world retail experience is imperative for sales growth. So implementing virtual shopping assistants is one way to give consumers a different impression, something that makes them more comfortable shopping online and eager to spend more per visit.

Shifting consumer preferences

The value of personalization in eCommerce has been well-known, but up until now, it’s primarily consisted of tailored recommendations for additional products or upselling, the old “other people liked this item” nudge to top-off the cart. That worked well initially, yet consumers’ attitudes shift and will continue to change as retailers compete for their attention

As such, it’s pivotal to deploy technology that enhances and complements the online experience with face-to-face interactions. Video chats are a significant first step, but those platforms only work as well as the underlying technology allows. Not only that, but many brands relegate video content for customer support instead of sales and marketing. Consumers want memorable interactions with brands, a personal touch, so a virtual shopping assistant bridges the gap between in-person shopping and the digital realm. 

The challenge of bolstering consumer loyalty

Notwithstanding that insight, virtual shopping assistants – presenting products from virtual showrooms – give brands a means to build loyalty and genuinely understand the needs of their target market. Think of it as the ultimate product demonstration because online shoppers will speak with live salespersons and have the ability to communicate with them in real-time.

This capability gives businesses that rely on white-glove, high-touch service a chance to thrive in the online realm where so many interactions are merely clever automation. The jewellery industry is a prime example because consumers still crave similar experiences than before the pandemic. Online shopping was there well before COVID-19, so consumers already had an off-ramp of sorts when in-person shopping was no longer possible.

Unfortunately, the damage to brand loyalty is immeasurable since many companies have yet to implement immersive online shopping. Still, the technology is available for those who want to enable virtual shopping with a human touch. Sans the human element, brands are swimming against the tide, and companies that offer personalized, immersive interactions will most likely dominate.

Indeed, whether it’s shifting consumer preferences or the imperative to increase loyalty, one way to satisfy both imperatives is to implement virtual shopping assistants. The challenge will be integrating new systems with current IT capabilities, and not everyone is enjoying success without underlying technology in place.