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A recent survey carried out by the National Retail Federation (NRF) confirmed that consumers are increasingly attracted by digital experiences. In particular, the research data report that at least 90% of the customers in the sample (in the United States, Ed.) have used at least one of the services made available by the brands, such as the online purchase with in-store pick-up, or the payment through mobile app and self pick-up at the store or at a locker point. In such a context, the physical store is undergoing a phase of progressive transformation of its role, while remaining the place where the largest number of purchases is made: a figure that confirms that digital commerce is not at all an “enemy” of physical sales. On the contrary, if implemented consciously, digital applications turn out to be a valuable ally thanks to their ability to better support all the stages of the shopping experience, adding value to the service and even to the product itself.
Omnichannel Customer Experience: overcoming the “physical store vs online store” vision
The advent of the internet and, in particular, e-commerce had initially destabilised traditional retailers, who were not ready to face new competitors. Things have recently started to “normalise”, at least for the brands that have chosen to consciously take the digital transformation path, adjusting their offer and creating omnichannel customer experience strategies. Unlike traditional solutions, focused on one or more specific phases of the sales process, the omnichannel logic intends to make use of all the available channels to offer the user a seamless brand experience. After using the app, the customer may decide to visit the physical store, which takes on a new role, overcoming the traditional connotation that regarded it as a simple point of sale or, worse, the only place to establish a customer-product relationship.
The evolution of the shopping experience is leading brands to invest more and more in the digitisation of their processes: e-commerce, artificial intelligence and big data are increasingly frequent terms within the vocabulary of companies. Hence, the strong need to connect all the phases of the entire supply chain. On the one hand, traditional retailers are investing ever more in digital platforms, on the other, more and more brands born online are opening physical stores to offer additional services to their community.
The possible strategies that companies have are endless: the common goal is to create unique experiences for the users, allowing them to interact naturally and seamlessly with their products, regardless of whether this occurs in stores or online. The brand experience is not tied to a specific context: it can take place at any time, wherever the customer is. Usually, a mobile app is the link. In any case, transforming the entire sales process in a digital direction is the challenge that brands are facing today.
Digital tools: engagement and customisation to gain customers’ trust
The digital age customer journey uses natively many communication channels which must collaborate with each other in keeping with the omnichannel strategy. In this context, a user may discover a product online and end up buying it in the store, or it could be the other way around or, else, the whole experience might conclude online. How is it possible to compose such a varied dynamic?
Probably, the best answer lies in the practical objectives, which often translate into the product customisation possibility and the enhancement of the user-product relationship to ensure the highest level of engagement. If this process is implemented effectively, the natural mistrust of technology will be overcome. It is surprising to note how the youngest sample of the NRF survey welcomed the fact that websites track users’ browsing history and may suggest products and solutions based on their online habits.
It is easy to see how 3D technologies can play a leading role in a physical-digital context redefined according to the omnichannel logic. To identify the potential of this strategy, let’s review some of the main tools that trigger and support user engagement, a crucial aspect of the shopping experience.
1 – Virtual Try-On applications in Augmented Reality
One of the main features of augmented reality, as the name suggests, is adding digital content to the real context. Why not use it to test products? Virtual try-on apps were born out of this concept and have significant importance in sectors such as furniture, fashion & luxury and personal care.
The AR Try-On functions are also used on channels such as Youtube (in particular, for make-up videos) and bookmarking (Google Collections and Pinterest).
2 – Virtual Mirrors (virtual dressing rooms)
Take the concept of AR Virtual Try-On mobile apps and add a physical setting to virtually try on clothes inside the store: the result is a much greater level of engagement. Thanks to a specific mobile app, the physical and digital worlds meet to provide a simultaneous experience, which gives retailers numerous advantages. One of them is the possibility to limit significantly the physical models available in the store. The virtual mirror can dynamically manage all the models and sizes contained in the product catalogue.
Virtual mirrors are a great case in point. To achieve their goal, they integrate many 3D technologies, including tracking – used to animate the customer’s virtual 3D avatar – and advanced 3D simulation of the fabrics – fundamental to render the image credible and consistent. The result delivers such a level of realism that eliminates the perceptual gap between the digital and real worlds.
3 – In-store navigator app
Large stores often have endless aisles and uncountable shelves among which it’s easy to get lost. Unless there is an app designed to assist us along the way, displaying extra contextual information to describe in detail the characteristics of the products. In-store navigation apps are a very effective aid to turn serial sales locations into a dynamic and customisable experience.
4 – Virtual Assistants and 3D Configurators
Assisting and guiding the user in the purchase process means to interpret their habits and desires in the best way. Virtual assistants were created to meet this need. There are many different types, based on artificial intelligence, with the common goal of directly suggesting products or guiding a configuration process, in which the user can interact with realistic 3D models from the digital catalogue.
5 – Virtual Store
Another “trick” widely used to capture the attention of the customer is to digitise all aspects of the store or part of the experience, to overcome any physical restriction. This opens up many opportunities, such as the virtual tour of a particular brand’s flagship – which can be located on the other side of the world – or the configuration of a product in the physical store, with immersive retail solutions based on Virtual Reality.
6 – “Tailor-made” ateliers and online shopping
In addition to “physical-to-digital” solutions, some companies chose to go the other way around. They started off with an e-store and later integrated a physical store to provide services that make the customer journey even more exclusive. This is the case of Lanieri, one of the big Italian names in the latest generation fashion industry. The innovative business idea of the brand from Biella consists of selling, exclusively online, top-of-the-range tailored suits, customisable in various details thanks to Lanieri 3D Experience, the 3D configurator found on lanieri.com.
To better support the tailoring process, Lanieri has also decided to open a series of physical Ateliers. In these spaces, direct sales are not envisaged. The idea is to re-propose a typical tailor shop, in which the customer finds a style assistant who guides them with expertise in satisfying their desires. From taking measurements all the way to choosing among the samples of real fabrics, buttons and all the finishes of Lanieri’s shirts and dresses.
Read more on AR virtual try-on technologies on mobile platforms
The National Retail Federation is a private association that has been assisting retailers in many respects for over one hundred years, organising thematic events and publishing targeted research. It is headquartered in Washington, United States. Read more on: National Retail Federation
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