The Rise of Virtual & Personal Shopping in Retail
Consumers today crave personalized shopping experiences like virtual and personal shopping. Learn how to offer these services to drive sales and cultivate brand loyalty.
Even before the pandemic, consumers’ expectations for personalization were already rising. A 2018 survey revealed that 80% of consumers were more likely to make a purchase when brands offered personalized experiences.
Over the past decade, the digital world has evolved to be a place where relevance is expected. Algorithms have become incredibly adept at understanding our interests and at serving up content that will satisfy. As a result, we’ve become accustomed to hyper-relevant content that feels seamlessly personalized and curated just for us.
These seemingly individualized experiences in the digital realm are conditioning us to seek the same in our physical interactions, too. In the world of retail, this phenomenon has created a consumer base that has higher expectations for personalization than ever before. At the height of the pandemic, these needs were met by brands with sharp e-commerce strategies that gave shoppers what they were looking for, quickly.
Today, the typical customer journey is more omnichannel than ever before. Digital and physical shopping are blended in such a way that both retailers and consumers can no longer find the dividing line. Brick-and-mortar retail is having a fierce resurgence, though what consumers want from in-store experiences is changing. After years of relative isolation, consumers are craving in-person interaction – establishing a key opportunity for brands.
In a world where shoppers crave personalized experiences, brands must think critically about how to forge and nurture long term relationships with their customers. By offering personal shopping experiences through in-store or virtual interactions, retailers can create meaningful connections with consumers that translate to higher LTV and brand loyalty.
Keep reading for an overview of personal shopping and virtual shopping, and for guidance on how to easily offer these services to your customers.
What is personal shopping or appointment shopping?
Personal shopping, sometimes referred to as “clienteling,” is when store associates engage with shoppers to provide a personalized one-on-one experience. This can take the form of casual consultations in store (such as when a customer asks a question about a product) or a more formalized, scheduled session (e.g., a personal styling appointment or a consultation with a product expert).
Personal shopping interactions can happen spontaneously or be scheduled in advance. These one-on-one interactions have always been the norm in retail, but longer, more formalized personalized shopping experiences have traditionally been associated with the world of luxury or high-end retail.
Today, this service is becoming an increasingly popular offering among lower-priced premium and mass-market retailers. With brands paying more attention to delivering standout personalized experiences, retailers that don’t have a personal shopping or clienteling strategy will be in danger of alienating consumers.
What is virtual shopping?
Virtual shopping takes the personal shopping experience online. Brands like Lululemon, Credo, and American Eagle have embraced technology to provide personalized shopping experiences to consumers from their homes (or from anywhere they can connect).
Live virtual shopping can take many forms. Some consumers may prefer to simply chat with a store associate in real-time as they’re shopping online. Others may want a more individualized session on-demand. And sometimes shoppers may want to schedule an appointment in advance for a more in-depth consultation. Sessions can take place via text chat, on the phone, or via video.
Offering as many options as possible is best. Today’s consumer prioritizes convenience, and the more options you give your customers, the easier the shopping experience will feel.
Related: Top Retail and Customer Experience Trends (2023)
The benefits of virtual and personal shopping
While virtual shopping, personal shopping, and appointment shopping do require resources and planning, the benefits are definitely worth the investment. Here are the key benefits of offering these services.
Deliver on expectations for personalization
The digital world has taught us to expect personalization and convenience. Consumers have become conditioned by advanced algorithms to crave individualized experiences – both online and off.
As a result, the modern consumer expects personalization across the entire omnichannel customer journey. And, after a period of relative isolation during the height of the pandemic, shoppers reemerged craving human interaction. Sales growth at physical stores outpaced e-commerce in 2021, according to the US Department of Commerce.
Consumers are looking to connect, and brands that offer individualized attention will be well-positioned to build brand loyalty. Personal shopping appointments, regardless of channel, are a fantastic way to offer the type of personalized shopping experience consumers are seeking.
Clienteling and assisted shopping leads to higher sales. For example, Credo Beauty saw a 21X increase in online conversions in just a few months’ time after introducing virtual shopping.
Personalized shopping and virtual shopping give brands full access to their customers. Through conversations, consultations, and one-on-one sessions, you can build a complete understanding of each consumer’s preferences and interests, uncovering upselling and cross-selling opportunities that feel natural and right to your customers. Plus, customers love the attention. One-on-one time with store associates deepens customers’ engagement with your brand and drives LTV.
Customer flow management solutions like Waitwhile make it easy to keep track of customer data and preferences. With Waitwhile, you can centrally store customer notes to develop deeper relationships with your customers over time – and across channels.
Learn more: Store customer insights to keep the conversation going
Meet the needs of today’s omnichannel consumer
The typical customer journey today is truly omnichannel. Consumers will research products on one channel and complete a purchase in another. Repeat purchases may follow a different path, jumping between different channels.
Offering the same experiences in-store and online will make your customer journey more seamless. Ideally, your customers should be able to access the same level of personalization on every channel.
Plus, the modern consumer craves flexibility. Having options for personal shopping both in-store and online via virtual shopping maximizes shoppers’ choices and reduces friction on the path to purchase.
Create brand evangelists
Personal shopping, appointment shopping, and virtual shopping provide a deeper brand experience that non-assisted shopping experiences. Since they are all staff-led, they’re effective methods of delivering brand messaging and immersing customers in your culture.
These personalized, 1-1 experiences deepen brand engagement and naturally make consumers feel like they are part of your brand’s world. Over time, positive personalized experiences cultivate brand loyalty and, eventually, breed brand evangelism.
The power of having a strong team of brand evangelists is unmatched. Customers who love your brand will do your marketing for you, growing your consumer base and helping you build a strong community.
How to offer virtual shopping or personal shopping to your customers
Today’s retail environment is driven by omnichannel or hybrid retail. The typical customer journey is more fluid than before, and consumers jump between online and offline channels without thinking twice.
Offering customers options for personalized shopping experiences across all channels is going to be key to winning over consumers. But, implementing personal shopping at scale can be a major challenge from a resource perspective. These assisted shopping experiences are often reliant on staff, so you need to find an efficient way to leverage your resources.
There are two ways to run personal shopping (whether virtual or in-person): appointment scheduling and virtual queues.
Appointment shopping lets your customers schedule an appointment in advance to meet with a store associate for a personalized shopping experience. These appointments can be held in-person at a physical store or online via video.
Offering appointment scheduling to customers is the most straightforward way of managing personal shopping. With the right tool, customers can book a time that works best for them and then self-manage their appointment in case they need to rebook or cancel. On the backend, you can see all of the appointments for each day at a glance, and staff can prep as needed.
The easiest way to offer appointment scheduling is to use a proven appointment scheduling app, like Waitwhile. With Waitwhile:
- Customers can schedule, change, or cancel appointments on their own
- Calendar management is automated, so staff can focus exclusively on the customer
- Messages and notifications are sent automatically, reducing no-show rates
- Brands can fully customize the UX to keep their customer journey fully on-brand
Learn more: How to Add Appointment Booking to Your Website
In addition to letting customers book appointments ahead of time, you may want to offer personalized shopping experiences on demand. This can quickly get tricky to manage manually and, when demand is high, can lead to uncomfortable crowding in your stores. For a seamless experience, use virtual queues.
Virtual queues allow customers to join a line with any device and do anything while they wait. With virtual queue management solutions like Waitwhile, customers will get accurate AI-powered wait times and receive automatic updates on their wait status. Because they don’t have to wait in a physical line, customers are free to do anything they’d like – some may choose to leave and come back while others may continue shopping, driving sales.
Virtual queuing is a highly convenient experience for consumers. In fact, a recent Waitwhile survey revealed that 70% of consumers prefer virtual lines to physical ones.
You can use virtual queueing on any channel and with a queue management system like Waitwhile, you can maximize the flexibility offered to your customers by offering both appointment scheduling and virtual queuing options. Waitwhile will automatically merge appointments and any number of virtual queues into a single line, making the wait fair for everyone.
Keep reading: How to Book Appointments and Waitlists Together
Making retail personal
As consumer expectations for personalization and convenience continue to rise, brands that offer memorable, individualized experiences will rise to the top. Personal shopping and appointment shopping have traditionally been associated with more high-end retail. However, as omnichannel and hybrid retail are evolving, these 1-1 experiences are becoming more commonplace across the full retail spectrum.
Consumers want to be seen and feel special. Personal shopping, appointment shopping, and virtual shopping are key services that deliver on consumers’ expectations and nurture long term relationships. With Waitwhile, retailers can easily set up on-brand appointment scheduling or virtual queue management to power any type of personal shopping experience.