Is virtual selling set to take off?

Discussion
Source: viewpico.com/emilyweiss
Apr 16, 2020
Tom Ryan

Retailers have dabbled with virtual selling in recent years, but there now appears to be an intensified focus with in-store opportunities vanishing amid the pandemic.

On April 8, Glossier introduced Glossier Live Edit, a video chat function supporting one-on-one consultations. The service’s initial 150 appointments sold out quickly. Emily Weiss, founder, wrote on Instagram, “Think of it as your own personal Top Shelf treatment: share the products you’ve been loving, the things you have questions about, or just what beauty means to you today — we’ll share too.”

Glossy profiled how Credo Beauty, Beautycounter and Tata Harper are also tapping virtual consultations in the beauty space. Credo Beauty’s associates are able to link recommendations to online product pages. Credo Beauty’s CEO Dawn Dobras told Glossy the feature acts “like an Uber for sales associates.”

Salesfloor, a service that supports mobile clienteling in the apparel and footwear space, is providing complimentary access to its platform in response to COVID-19. Associates can earn commission by engaging customers through email, live chatting and text messaging. Retailers can set up their own storefronts on the platform showcasing product themes and share  personalized comments on specific items.

With in-store events shut down in the grocery space, Chicago’s Mariano’s has launched Mariano’s Meet Ups, an online platform for cooking classes, wine tastings, mixology sessions and live performances from Chicago musicians. Home-bound customers can also digitally gain access to expert advice on everything from home furnishings to wedding gowns and diamond rings.

In a blog entry, Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, wrote that retailers will have to measure the risks of letting employees access customer data and of using the virtual tools on their own personal devices, as well as the complications of having staff work from home.

Mr. Phibbs believes virtual selling can work across a range of categories, and many furloughed associates will be eager to chase commissions. He also maintains that while virtual selling will become more important regardless in the long term, it’s essential for many in the near term. “We will have to lean on virtual selling sooner than later if we want to survive,” he wrote.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Can virtual selling make up for the in-store service lost from stores that are currently closed and likely facing restrictions when they open in the months ahead? Which virtual selling techniques do you find most promising?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The pandemic has certainly served to demonstrate that there is a place for virtual selling. It is technically doable and will keep many businesses afloat."
"Now is the time to try new virtual selling techniques as we face limitations on physical personal interaction."
"If you could see the way the Gen Zers in my house have been purchasing items on Depop, Instagram and even Facebook, you’d think “virtual” selling was just a way of life. "

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12 Comments on "Is virtual selling set to take off?"


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Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

If there was ever a time for virtual selling to accelerate consumer adoption, now is the time. For it to work, it must be easy and intuitive to use. Ideally, it offers the option of being web-based and app-based for the consumer to choose. And of course, privacy concerns must be addressed.

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust
When we think about the technologies that are likely to materially accelerate their longer-term trend (remembering that it’s the inflection that matters, as most of these were already experiencing double-digit growth rates) there are a few questions to ask: Are consumers attracted to it mainly out of immediate term necessity (or desperation) or not? What was the state of awareness and trial prior to the pandemic? Once we get past wide-scale store closures and lingering fears, does the technology either eliminate (or materially reduce) a significant pain point in the customer’s journey or, as I like to say, “amplify the wow” and provide a differentiating and memorable customer outcome? When we do this we can see why certain types of technology–for example the core features of Amazon Prime–are not likely to be radically changed as most households in the U.S. are very familiar with the features and most use them frequently. The underlying reasons why certain products have significant e-commerce penetration and, conversely, many do not, won’t be much different down the road. In the… Read more »
Bob Amster
BrainTrust

The pandemic has certainly served to demonstrate that there is a place for virtual selling. It is technically doable and will keep many businesses afloat. However, there are always unintended consequences. One of these consequences will be on social interaction. The convenience of social selling may result in less social interaction and less exposure to the outdoors. I consider both of these critical behaviors and, as such, two behaviors that we do not want to lessen or lose altogether.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
To paraphrase Tesco, “every little bit helps.” Certainly it’s a good combination of being where customers are – on their phones, while also mixing selling with something that consumers increasingly need – entertainment. In China, livestream selling definitely had an impact for retailers, so much so that some are organizing to turn what was an emergency response into a fully supported strategy of the business. I know of one Chinese retailer who anticipates nearly half their growth going forward coming from livestreaming. That said, in China it was a perfect storm of things: a platform that made it easy (WeChat), a consumer audience already primed to shop that way, and store associates also already primed to make the transition to sell that way, just because they’re already good at it as consumers. That perfect storm does not apply so well in the U.S. market. It is possible to make the transition, but retailers here should not expect it to be as easy as it has been in Asia. If you’re going to go this route,… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

There are probably lots of lessons to be learned here from how Chinese retailers are using WeChat as a new channel. Individual store employees are now pitching multiple products multiple times a day. My WeChat feed has exploded with product offerings. It’s actually kind of annoying. I’m just trying to stay connected with some friends and work associates from my time in China, but I now have to scroll through a blizzard of product offerings. I’m sure this will evolve, but in the meantime it is proving to be an effective step in shifting the choices available for selling and buying.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Financially, virtual selling won’t make up for the losses from stores – but it can and does help. It also allows a brand to remain connected to consumers, with personal interaction being especially important for top customers. I expect we will see many more virtual selling initiatives in the coming months as retailers continue to adapt.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

If you could see the way the Gen Zers in my house have been purchasing items on Depop, Instagram and even Facebook, you’d think “virtual” selling was just a way of life. I definitely think there’s a generational factor, but once we move ahead from the spot we’re in cautiously, it’s going to be a way of life for all to some degree.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Now is the time to try new virtual selling techniques as we face limitations on physical personal interaction. While it won’t replace traditional in-store services it is a way to move forward in a safer manner which is critical to all involved.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

If there is a time to strike the virtual selling innovations, it is now. There are plenty of small businesses that have been severely impacted by the pandemic, that could capitalize on this growing trend. Whether it be in the form of advisory virtual consultations, new product introductions, and educational forums with one or more audience members, there is an opening for these services, especially as we are all struggling with our new normal.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

It ma be tough to make up for all the lost foot traffic, however this is definitely a way to build the business long-term, even beyond this crisis.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

Virtual selling is not just an adaptation to the crisis; it’s an adaptation to the consumer demographic. Online shopping is the norm for young consumers, and some kind of accompanying sales assistance will be a growing expectation among Millennials and Gen Zers. Some are more comfortable shopping behind a screen; they find the in-person experience and interactions draining or time-consuming and prefer the anonymity and convenience of a text or chat message.

But remote and virtual selling will be a catalyst for many industries, not just those geared toward young consumers. Furniture, DIY, home improvement, and other players vending larger goods that are involved purchases can bring in Augmented Reality technologies that allow people to see how an item will look in their home. Many fashion and eyewear brands already offer virtual try-ons. These retailers can sweeten the pot by mimicking other ecommerce players with perks like longer return policies or free shipping and returns to encourage online sales during this time.

Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust

I don’t think virtual selling will make up for lost profits, but it certainly will cover a substantial amount. Hero, for example, is a virtual selling digital assistant that lets shoppers talk directly with store assistants. This is something that streamlines and personalizes the customer journey — a virtual selling trend that will continue way past the COVID-19 crisis.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The pandemic has certainly served to demonstrate that there is a place for virtual selling. It is technically doable and will keep many businesses afloat."
"Now is the time to try new virtual selling techniques as we face limitations on physical personal interaction."
"If you could see the way the Gen Zers in my house have been purchasing items on Depop, Instagram and even Facebook, you’d think “virtual” selling was just a way of life. "

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