Is in-store videoconferencing omnichannel’s logical next step?

Discussion
Dec 12, 2016

Within the next three years, 16 percent of retailers plan to utilize videoconferencing to allow a customer to shop from home with the help of an associate in the store.

That is the conclusion of Boston Retail Group’s “The Future Store Manifesto – 2016 Scorecard,” which was sponsored by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Wrote BRG in its report, “Customers can request to see different products and get a better understanding of size and color options based on interaction with a live associate.”

The prediction comes as a few retailers — Saks and Nordstrom, for example — are enabling online browsers to contact in-store associates for assistance. At the same time, how-to, unboxing and demonstration videos have become popular on YouTube and more online demonstration videos can be found on sites such Best Buy as part of the shopping process.

Invodo’s “2016 Omnichannel Outlook: Why Online Shoppers Want Video,” which surveyed more than 1,000 shoppers, found that:

  • Eighty-four percent of shoppers have watched at least one video in the past three months to research a product online;
  • Seventy-four percent are more likely to purchase when video is part of the process;
  • Eighty-eight percent agreed that videos better explain product features and benefits;
  • Sixty-eight percent are likely to watch a video on a product page, 42 percent on a home page and 36 percent on YouTube.

The Invodo study found desire for video ranked higher for expensive or complex items but was generally seen as helpful across many categories. The top five categories were consumer electronics, with 90 percent of respondents finding videos important; home, 83 percent; automotive, 81 percent; apparel 75 percent; and sporting goods, also 75 percent.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see videoconferencing (in-store associates helping online shoppers) catching on with retailers? What opportunities and challenges do you see in using video to assist online shoppers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Videoconferencing with consumers is a double-edged sword for retailers."
"There are many ways of leveraging the power of video storytelling to benefit your brand and shopper — this application is unfortunately not..."
"I’m actually bullish on the concept, and I’m personally not a big fan of video. But here’s the deal. Chat is awful...."

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24 Comments on "Is in-store videoconferencing omnichannel’s logical next step?"


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Max Goldberg
Guest

Videoconferencing with consumers is a double-edged sword for retailers. On the plus side, retailers can aid consumers in making a purchase and have the opportunity to up-sell. On the downside, this could waste time and cost money by increasing staff. I think retailers will test the water and give videoconferencing a try, then adjust their expectations as they interact with customers.

Charles Dimov
Guest

To Max’s point, videoconferencing as an option will definitely get a customer’s attention. It might have the effect expressed in some of the stats above (74 percent of shoppers are more likely to purchase after watching a video). However, it might also waste a retailers time and resources (extra staff to field the videoconference calls). The challenge is that a consumer might use videoconferencing and get convinced about a specific product … then do further online searches and purchase from the lowest cost vendor — possibly elsewhere.

The challenge facing retailers in this case will be to find a way to differentiate their product and add an attractive service (extended warranty, full replacement break-fix … ) to the product to get the customer to stay with the retailer. Retailers are going to have to experiment with this one. Fascinating extension to omnichannel retailing!

Ori Marom
Guest

“Seventy-four percent are more likely to purchase when video is part of the process.” But purchase from whom? Most likely from someone else!

Here is the root of the problem: retailers somehow still believe that giving better in-store service can win them the customer and save the day. Is that a realistic expectation backed by evidence? No. The customer would gladly accept the free service (in this case the costly personal video call) and once her decision is made will search online for a better price.

Only a fundamental change in their business model would allow them to charge directly for the service and thereby justify the improvement in its level. Before that happens, improving service with no plan for the recovery of the added costs would only make things worse, much worse.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Videoconferencing with in-store associates is a non-starter. There are a multitude of reasons that make this impractical, here are three to consider:

  1. Cost. Many retailers today don’t have basic Wi-Fi access or even a modern POS system in their stores. The cost of installing and maintaining a videoconferencing system would be prohibitive for the majority of retailers.
  2. Distraction of in-store associates. As has been discussed in numerous posts on RetailWire, to a large extent store associates are already overburdened and stores are understaffed. Adding another complex task, like serving shoppers via videoconferencing, would exacerbate an already difficult situation. And;
  3. Store experience. Many consumers today argue that their move to online is a direct result of a poor in-store experience, adding videoconferencing to the mix would make it even worse, as well-intended associates yak with video-customers while the line-ups at check-out get longer.

This idea is utterly disconnected from the realities of operating a retail store.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Retail media that optimizes the customer experience is on its way to videoconferencing. Media can be added to virtually every product with in-depth product information being provided by digital display or available for near-field download to a mobile device.

London (UK)-based GoInStore has generated high interest with associate-view glasses that allow the at-home/office shopper to see what the associate sees and engage online, leading to ship-to-store or ship-to-home purchase.

A musician can order an instrument while on tour, or a do-it-yourselfer can call into a building supply store to get associate assistance with a problem, see the needed product and order it during a videoconferencing session.

Physical and online retail become “Phygital” within omnichannel.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

I’m inclined to agree with the previous posts pointing out the obstacles to the success of in-store associates videoconferencing. Many efficient associates multi-task when helping shoppers, i.e., they help several shoppers and other associates simultaneously, find products, research inventory, etc. Videoconferencing will eliminate this flexibility. Hence there will be less productivity and more associate frustration, especially when commissions are part of compensation. Adding this to what was mentioned above reveals a huge barrier to the success of this initiative.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust
Jasmine Glasheen
Principal Writer & Content Strategist, Jasmine Glasheen & Associates
5 years 5 months ago

Before dismissing videoconferencing, consider how may retailers provide customers online fit/product information and reviews. We are in the midst of an information economy, and customers using information gleaned from one company to purchase from another is an inevitability as a brand becomes known as an expert in their field.

Cosmetic companies were quick to adopt teaching technology: the Sephora Virtual Artist app, allows customers to virtually try colors before making a purchase. Could customers go on another website to make their color purchase after using the Sephora tutorial? Absolutely. Will they? Probably not.

The Millennial-minded want a relationship with the companies they patronize. Teaching customers a relevant skill is the quickest way to create a relationship.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Videoconferencing to assist a customer is good to the extent that it is done in an environment akin to a call center (call it a call center on steroids). Videoconferencing with store associates is not a practical use of the associates’ time. Videoconferencing should be considered a tool of the customer service department that a customer can reach. Of course, the quality of the CSR at the other end would have to be elevated because of the visibility.

Marge Laney
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Online videos are a great way to browse and research online without the aid of a real person. They are educational, consistent and can review a lot of detail that the store associate may not know, remember or have the time to discuss with the customer.

Picture a store associate videoconferencing with a customer while standing in front of a customer who has made the trip to the store to talk to an associate in person. Awkward and irritating for both the associate and the customer.

The trouble with many of these techie solutions is that they just aren’t scalable at the store level. I say keep videoconferencing out of the store and in a call center.

Tom Redd
Guest

I never trust the numbers so my read is that this will start with a small number of retailers and become an added offshoot for third-party customer service operations. The ones that handle phone orders for many retailers. They will also handle store videos from a non-store environment. Videoconferencing is not a new trick needed for retailers to win Generation Z and Millennials — it is another toy for mobile addicts. Top retailers know that it is the right products, product mix, price and location that win shoppers and loyalty.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

While I believe telling a story through video is an extremely powerful communication medium, videoconferencing between in-store associates and online shoppers will be a PR novelty for the foreseeable future. Retailers are turning to technology to improve the shopping experience and reduce payroll (an unspoken truth). In-store associates are brand ambassadors and as such should be focused on the shoppers who walk into their physical store. Those shoppers should be rewarded with personal attention and thanked for making the trip. It’s similar to the frustration shoppers endure when having to wait for in-store service because the associate is taking a call or getting coffee for the drive-thru customer before attending to the folks standing in their store.

There are many ways of leveraging the power of video storytelling to benefit your brand and shopper — this application is unfortunately not one of them.

Adam Simon
Guest

I would like to see videoconferencing used in-store and routed back to experienced associates in a shared service center. That way you get the footfall in-store with potential upsell and you get the customer experience. What is disappointing in today’s shopping experience is store associates who are not always experts in the products you want to buy. It is time stores started investing in Wi-Fi — that is at the bottom of the Maslow Pyramid for people and permits the deployment of so much retail technology as well as the demonstration of Wi-Fi-connected objects.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest

I’m confused. The Invodo study cited is focused on why customers want and use videos online. Videoconferencing is a whole different thing than making rich content available via product videos and demos. The staffing implications for videoconferencing in stores is huge. During peak seasons like holidays, should the staff answer the video conference call or help the customers standing in front of them?

Dan Raftery
Guest

These discussion questions are not about the referenced research. It’s a huge leap from people using instructional or informational videos online to people being even remotely interested in videoconferencing with a store associate from the comfort of their home. The usage numbers are so high because these little product documentaries have been around for years and have become as important as the shipping container for many categories. Manufacturers have this covered.

Lee Kent
Guest

Video for how-tos, to better explain the product, etc. can all be pre-recorded and made available very practically. Videoconferencing with store associates? This impacts store staffing, drives up costs, and could possibly do damage to the brand if the associate is not the most knowledgeable or helpful. This concept needs some work.

For my 2 cents.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest

I am actually a bit surprised that this has not taken off faster in the U.S. marketplace. With the advent of Skype, Facetime, etc., I would think that shoppers would absolutely feel very comfortable with videoconferencing. I also don’t think that every interaction would need to be via video. However, it does add a significant personality and connection differentiation for the brand. Of course, intense training should be in place to ensure the store staff is equipped properly to add value to the shopping experience. That is easier said than done.

Tim S
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

I think this works for specialty and upscale retailers with limited or no retail buildings like Orvis, L.L.Bean, etc. It would expand on their Chat function. Representatives will need to be VERY knowledgeable on products. Risk could be that shoppers use it as a vehicle to complain (to be heard) or return merchandise which could lead to needing even more specialized customer service staff.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
Nikki Baird
VP of Strategy, Aptos
5 years 5 months ago
I’m actually bullish on the concept, and I’m personally not a big fan of video. But here’s the deal. Chat is awful. Especially when you know it’s a bot or worse, someone in a call center in another country cutting and pasting stock responses into the chat window. Video enables a much more personal and human connection, and what better connection to make than one with an associate in your local store? It’s not going to work for everything — I can’t really see a grocery store thinking this is valuable, nor a grocery shopper wanting to video chat with a store associate about a can of peas. But when I was looking for a drum set for my daughter, for example — that would be a perfect opportunity, especially in the used/resale market. See the product you’re most interested in, talk to an expert — and not just a faceless, nameless person, but someone you could go meet in person…. And before people write it off as too expensive or too distracting for in-store… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

People on a screen, people in front of you, people in your headphones — the principle for success would be the same any way: they’d better be good! So many years of lousy customer service in a stack-it-high-and-let-it-fly retail environment has led consumers to expect the worst. SO … if you’re going to do something like this, or even have a store at all, you have to surprise the consumer now (sadly a surprise) with excellent people. People people vs operations people.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
5 years 5 months ago
The advent of real-time retail allows us to coordinate what’s in someone’s closet, home, garage, locker, etc. with what they may have browsed online and create a dialog across all channels that creates an intimacy that has the potential to change retail forever. Adding videoconferencing to a personal assistant service can elevate the experience by tapping another sense — sight. This could be the ultimate in white-glove eCommerce service. The top of the market has always embraced the personal shopper and we are also seeing more young shoppers that appreciate the value of personalized services. Consumers enjoy the theater of shopping and bringing that theater to their homes via videoconferencing is amazing. The need and usage of these services will only increase as technology enables this personalization to be offered to a wider audience at a lower cost. The biggest challenge with leveraging in-store associates to assist online shoppers is the potential negative impact on in-store service levels. The last thing we want to see, as a shopper in the store, is a sales associate… Read more »
Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The concept of shopping from home is being raised to another level. It’s no longer just browsing a website, having a text chat with a chatbot, calling the sales/service number… It’s as close to an in-store experience as you can have. A real sales associate using video to show, tell and sell. In a sense, the retailer is moving people from a contact center into the store to help customers.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

I can see the videoconferencing opportunity working very well for the appropriate retailer, but I also believe there are better options or similar alternatives that can provide consumers with the insight they are looking for before making a purchase.

gordon arnold
Guest

The software and hardware is available for the retail market to exploit for ramping up service. The jury is still out on whether or not the numbers coincide with those that elect to follow this ability to and through checkout. Then there is the risk factor(s). The ability to find and associate may improve, but will the consumer like the service quality. The odds of this technology being a success in or across the majority of retail or e-tail establishments may be a gamble with mega-bucks odds. I have no doubt that we will learn much from those that jump into this too soon.

Prasanta Shee
Guest
5 years 4 months ago

Video conferencing technology in particular, has become one of the most powerful mediums of communication, helping individuals at home as well as small and large companies. Tools like R-HUB HD video conferencing servers, WebEx, GoMeetNow, gotomeeting etc, help businesses in cost reduction, easy client interaction, increased efficiency, etc.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Videoconferencing with consumers is a double-edged sword for retailers."
"There are many ways of leveraging the power of video storytelling to benefit your brand and shopper — this application is unfortunately not..."
"I’m actually bullish on the concept, and I’m personally not a big fan of video. But here’s the deal. Chat is awful...."

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