Can experiential retail go live and online?

Discussion
Source: BoConcept
Jun 11, 2020
Gabriela Baiter

We may have thought that talk of a retail apocalypse was a distant memory, but fallout from the coronavirus outbreak is once again putting the industry to the test. As consumer attention shifts online and retailers continue to shutter store doors, a slew of experiments have been popping up that can serve as a lesson for all of us looking to pivot in this new normal. 

“Experiential e-commerce” and “live shopping” are two of the most recent tactics being leveraged to solve for shifting consumer behavior.

Brands taking the experiential route include Apartment Therapy and BoConcept, a Denmark-based luxury furniture retailer. The two have created virtual stores to help their community better imagine spaces without seeing them in person.

Similarly, brands have also leveraged live shopping to transform static product pages into online shows with engaging hosts. Similar to QVC, the live-streaming shopping format has been popular in China with Taobao Live reporting that gross merchandise volume has grown by 150 percent per year over the past three years. A few major players experimenting with this change include Amazon Live, revolutionary department store Showfields and the live shopping app NTWRK. While each site’s live show style is a little different, the tactics remain the same — talking heads (usually influencers) preaching product features in a studio environment with live chat functionality.

Source: NTWRK/Apple App Store
Source: NTWRK/Apple App Store

The one company that is taking the experience to the next level is NTWRK, a pioneer that has been dubbed as Gen Z’s answer to the Home Shopping Network. It recently launched Transfer, a virtual festival with artists dropping products from 30 exclusive brands across NTWK’s platform. Backed by Live Nation, the tech company has built anticipation by pairing talks with live entertainment from some of the biggest names in music. As first cited in TechCrunch, the company “is hoping as many as 240,000 shoppers and 10 million viewers will show up for the event.”

If retail stores and experiential pop-ups are no longer a priority for consumers, “experiential e-commerce” and “live shopping” may be two ways for brands to stand out and create something worth visiting, again and again.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will live shopping and experiential e-commerce take off now that more people are going online to make purchases? In what other ways can retailers and consumer-direct brands introduce experiences that will set them apart online?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Virtual reality is another angle that really needs to be in the mix here. Virtual stores, events, live shopping and so on can all be augmented by VR..."
"I do believe the timing is right to leverage today’s “sensory” technologies to create innovative online shopping journeys that are compelling enough to last."
"As we return to a new sense of normalcy, the customer will have the option of shopping in person or through a curated online experience."

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21 Comments on "Can experiential retail go live and online?"


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Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

There has been a trend towards offering more experiential and theatrical customer experiences for a few years, today’s environment has simply accelerated the need and desire for it. The retailers that will continue to thrive over the next few years are those who are able to be agile and creative within their sales and fulfillment channels to offer customers a differentiating experience.

Gabriela Baiter
Staff

We can’t forget about fulfillment. While I’m sad to see Amazon duplicate the QVC model in live shopping, it makes sense for a marketplace that is product (over brand) first.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Live shopping may feel very similar to a home shopping network, but the key is the “live” aspect. If done well, it improves the authenticity factor. It requires a lot of alignment between the brand and the ambassador, and amplified the risk of messaging going wrong. For consumers, if there is value for showing up — a discount that is available only for few hours — it could increase the conversion.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I believe this is just another facet of retailing that retailers will need to look at as another profit driver for them. Influencers have been around for a long while, so why not utilize them in this capacity? It will be interesting to see where this goes.

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust
I’m a big believer in the promise of experiential engagement. Previous barriers to entry have been cost and technology. Now, you no longer need a cable network to reach an audience, and anyone with a decent video rig can get started. Of course, a brand still needs engaging content and great product. But I recently wondered in an opinion piece called “The Crisis Handed You a Captive Audience” about how bricks and mortar might be able to reinvent. Some examples: ★ Home furnishings & department stores: Showrooms are closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dress up a room and host a themed show. In fact, each department has the makings of a high production quality set. ★ Home goods: These brands might consider cooking classes online, similar to the way retailer Sur La Table was providing in-store. ★ Pet food brands: Pet care, grooming and daily activities to keep Fido occupied and less anxious when the dog park is closed? Diet and supplemental nutrition for your pet might also do well. ★ Home improvement… Read more »
Phil Chang
BrainTrust

I hope so. Some of the breakthroughs that retail could never do alone (proliferation of video conferencing to start) has opened the doors to being able to stitch real world and online together.

I’d love to see more virtual reality situations for better retail experiences — the closest thing to putting the product in a consumer’s hands. I also think that live chat, whether it’d be typing or a conversation, helps to make more curated conversations that lead to consumer purchases.

I think that our new consumer decision making process opens the door for curated pop-ups too that might overcome some of the issues that you’d have to overcome in a strictly brick and mortar world.

Gabriela Baiter
Staff

I completely agree Phil. The trap here for retailers is to make sure that there is a clear purpose for the technology. Virtual reality becomes a novelty if it is being used for solely marketing. Virtual stores paired with live streaming events can be a huge win for winning the heart’s of minds of customers who are skeptical to step foot in a store.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, livestreaming and experiential retail will soar by connecting companies and homebound consumers in real time. Bringing unique, fun retail experiences online (where consumers are spending more of their time) can spark engagement, word of mouth and trust.

In response, retailers and DTC brands need to think more like a TV producer to create online events that are worth consumers’ time. They can also attract consumers by focusing more on people and purpose rather than products.

For instance, grocers could stand out with live cooking shows. Or Lululemon could take its yoga classes and personal development workshops online to encourage a sense of community and belonging among health and wellness enthusiasts.

Gabriela Baiter
Staff

I also love the ACCESS that these technologies bring to their consumers who may have never had the chance to step foot in their stores. Brands who can pair this with faster fulfillment will thrive.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Virtual reality is another angle that really needs to be in the mix here. Virtual stores, events, live shopping and so on can all be augmented by VR, providing a much more immersive experience. And during the pandemic, the growth in VR has been strong and the Oculus Quest, for example, has almost been perpetually out of stock. Plus, as Facebook launches Horizon this year, many more people potentially will learn about and engage in VR.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Yes, absolutely. This is how the Jetsons would have shopped. I’m a big believer in all 5 senses being involved in an “experientail” endeavor, but this new shopping lane can only grow. HSN has certainly provided some lessons. And if cooking shows can work without smell-o-vision, then live apparel shopping can work absent the tactile element.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
Online retail is no different to traditional retail in that customers want to be “entertained” and have an enjoyable experience whilst shopping. Traditional retailers have more recently realized that the best way to compete with the online retailers is to inject some theater into their stores, making it a journey rather than just a shopping trip. This trend will undoubtedly continue and as online retailers will react with similar tactics. In many ways it is easier for online retailers to do this, though expensive. They can employ celebrities from music to TV to endorse their sites and cover all their shoppers with the one “show” whereas a traditional retailer has to replicate whatever they do across all their physical stores. However, the one thing that online retailers still cannot replicate is the social aspect of shopping in a traditional store and if this aspect can be incorporated in the theater provided, then stores will always have a place. Most people believe that COVID-19 has accelerated the share of retail spend online but there will be… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The industry has been working on the online shopping experience for years. Great retail virtual presences have come and gone without fanfare. However, I do believe the timing is right to leverage today’s “sensory” technologies to create innovative online shopping journeys that are compelling enough to last.

Gabriela Baiter
Staff

Right place. Right time. While live shopping has been around for years, it still has only solely focused on the “hard sell” with product. I’d love to see what we learned in experiential pop-ups and apply that to sell a lifestyle above anything else. Where’s the theatre?

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Live shopping works for QVC, HSN and others and it has easily adapted to interacting with guests during the pandemic using Zoom. I am interested in seeing how these new live streams “feel” because there is a marked difference. QVC has an upscale feel, HSN is more middle of the road department store, and there are a few channels that due to hosts and viewing quality are just unwatchable.

We have indie clients who are raking it in on Facebook Live — sales are stronger there than in their brick and mortar stores. And we have other clients who did well until their stores reopened and FBL viewers started started to lose interest in shopping virtually. The quality didn’t change, the shopper changed. I am not going to say that retail stores will no longer a priority for consumers. It’s just too early to tell.

Shelley E. Kohan
BrainTrust

The two main reasons that live stream shopping will take off is the shift of consumer comfort with shopping online and the overwhelming comfort that cross-generational shoppers have with using virtual applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Join.me. Other factors are convenience and trust in their favorite brands, many customers could easily get used to having their own stylist! Factors that can create high engagement online would be customer input on product development, gamification and customization.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Webcasts and live streams will surely help counter boredom and FOMO for home-bound shoppers. How-to and expert maker videos are already a huge segment of the YouTube offering. No surprise that retailers would cultivate their own flavors of these — to generate some excitement around consumption for shoppers who aren’t eager to mingle at the mall.

I suspect on-demand content might go over better than scheduled events most of the time, but as the QVC folks proved, celebrity appearances can draw an audience, especially if they are interactive (“is the caller there…”).

There’s potential for virtual personal shoppers in this scenario too. Imagine buying a bespoke suit or planning a room design over a video link. VR tools could come in handy there too.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

There is a market segment that will gravitate towards online experiential retail, but this will still take some time to become mainstream if it does at all. The distinctions come when we introduce interactive rather than broadcast engagement. Add in predictive intelligence and we have a far stronger case. Instead of product placement, we’ll have product sets catering to what we already know — and in many cases where the customer is already familiar with the sense-based nature of certain products such as tactile feel. I don’t believe, however, that the boost will be that significant. The trend to online has been ongoing for years and is linear. HSN and QVC has also seen linear growth, but has been flattening out revenue in the past couple of years.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
This is retail as theater, online style! With consumers forced to go online and learning more online habits as stores re-open, there is an opportunity for online to expand to a new level of commerce with a live component. Leveraging influencers to promote products in live streams is a sensible expansion to online selling. Video consumption, in general, has shown significant growth since the pandemic began and this is a great way for retailers to capitalize on that trend. It’s also a loyalty opportunity with a careful selection of influencers. For manufacturers, this may present an opportunity to go DTC in a theatrical way that can raise both awareness and sales. However, this can’t just be a “plain” live stream mirroring what QVC does on television. There needs to be an interactive component and a level of personalization to stand out. Amazon Live has started its own this path, but it’s truly uninspiring to date and really more of a QVC copy than anything else. Retailers can also try this approach by streaming from their… Read more »
Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

We were already witnessing the emergence of live shopping, experiential showrooms, and immersive customer-first retail models. With the pandemic’s impacts, we are also seeing the “great acceleration” take hold, and translating what normally has been executed in person, to a more digital-first, remote model.

Retail has always been about the blending of the arts and sciences. Some experiences simply cannot be replicated digitally. However, “live shopping” and Instagram shop now capabilities are gaining in momentum. As we return to a new sense of normalcy, the customer will have the option of shopping in person or through a curated online experience.

For the retailers, brands, and manufacturers, digital-first experiential retail represents a potentially lucrative revenue stream. They will need the supply chain infrastructure and supporting technologies to meet the customer demands.

rodgerdwight
Guest

I believe experiential retail will take off — but it’s a matter of execution. Live shopping is an interesting acquisition channel especially for the younger generation, but more in the way NTWRK executes it than Amazon Live. DTC brands can definitely leverage conversational retail (like the Hero app, or Gucci’s live shopping assistant) to set themselves apart online. Gaming is another opportunity (see Fornite’s sneaker launch). In the future, I believe we’ll also see more of a blend of peer-to-peer commerce like IG’s stoppable ads. For example, Whatsapp is looking to start payments, so we’ll see the merging of social apps with commerce similar to WeChat. If retailers can capitalise on these things ahead of time, it will place them at a unique competitive advantage.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Virtual reality is another angle that really needs to be in the mix here. Virtual stores, events, live shopping and so on can all be augmented by VR..."
"I do believe the timing is right to leverage today’s “sensory” technologies to create innovative online shopping journeys that are compelling enough to last."
"As we return to a new sense of normalcy, the customer will have the option of shopping in person or through a curated online experience."

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