Retail strategies are making the shopping experience personal during Covid-19 and beyond

What we’re buying, how we shop and what we expect from retailers is shifting rapidly, and as physical shops reopen, a hybrid model of online and in-person retail is emerging. The retail landscape is going through an extensive makeover that started years ago and was kicked into overdrive by Covid-19 restrictions. 

In the current climate, retailers need to give customers good reasons to shop with them, both online and in person. By offering personalized, intuitive, and seamless experiences through digital infrastructure and innovative offerings, these retailers are both retaining and growing their customer base.

Consumers expect personalization

From Netflix to YouTube to Amazon, our online activities lead us to targeted content so that, consciously or subconsciously, we anticipate personalization. Especially now, with online spending experiencing exponential growth, retailers have to continue to offer a unique enough draw to engage consumers online as well as bring them back in person as stores reopen.

Brands are going beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing and sales, and the push to streamline the shopping experience across multiple channels has never been stronger.

Retailers are leveraging a number of tools to help personalize the retail experience during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, such as:

  • Virtual concierge services
  • Virtual queues
  • Private shopping parties
  • Augmented reality visualization (AR)

Virtual concierge services

There is still no substitute for a human sales associate, and virtual concierge services provide just that, but from the comfort of home. Based on pre-pandemic in-store data, customers who worked with a sales associate were 43% more likely to make purchases, 81% more likely to spend more, and 12% more likely to return as a customer than those who didn’t. 

Virtual concierge services can take different forms, in some cases involving a sales associate simply live streaming a walking tour of the store, having the customer direct them to specific products and ask questions or seek advice. 

Another option, employed by athletic wear company Lululemon, is to offer video consultations with one of their ‘digital educators’, a sales associate who guides the shopper through their products to help them find the right style, fit, or gift via a 15- or 30-minute appointment on FaceTime or Zoom.

Tanger Outlets connects online consumers with a personal shopper who scours the physical store for the items the customer lists, and when the shopper has collected the purchases, the order can be delivered or picked up curbside. 

Virtual concierge service offers a convenient alternative to the in-store experience, without losing that personal touch.

Virtual queues

Prior to the pandemic, 55.1% of consumers preferred to shop in person, but by August, only 47% of customers surveyed said they even felt comfortable shopping in person, and 68% were still hesitant to return to out-of-home activities

Virtual queues can help smooth the transition back to in-person retail by managing store traffic, much like a restaurant’s digital reservation management. A virtual queue lets shoppers put their name down on a digital waitlist, either online or when they arrive at a store, and they receive a text when it’s their turn to enter the store, or their order is ready for pickup.

Grocery and other retailers are also using virtual queues to manage website ordering and payment to better manage inventory and payment flows. Electronics retailer Best Buy uses virtual waiting rooms for both in-person shopping and in-store services, having customers shop by appointment. 

Klēn employs a custom AI to keep track of new Covid-19 standards for your area and your industry so that you can better manage time and resources while staying on top of rapidly evolving regulations and best practices.

Private shopping parties

Private shopping parties are a real life shopping option where the store hosts small groups, allowing friends to shop alone together, usually before or after regular store hours. 

These events are now particularly relevant because they let shoppers avoid contact with other customers while having the undivided attention of sales staff. From the store perspective, hosting these small events gives the business an opportunity to offer a customized, personal retail experience and establish long term client relationships.

Shops can incorporate mask requirements and additional cleaning protocols, while unsold products can be set aside and sanitized after the event. Providing guests with a discount code for future online purchases can help keep these shoppers engaged after the event.

As shoppers venture back into the physical realm, they can use the Klēn app to quickly find out how their favorite shop is meeting or exceeding regulations to protect their health during the pandemic.

AR visualization let online shoppers try before they buy

Augmented reality (AR) has become an important tool for helping shoppers see exactly how a new dining set would look in their home, how a pair of pants would fit, or whether a certain color of eyeshadow would work with their features. 

Amidst a home renovations frenzy brought on by pandemic-related stay-at-home measures, home retailers like Wayfair and IKEA have been leveraging AR technology to let customers virtually furnish entire rooms by adding furniture to a 3D rendering of a photograph. The newest iteration of Ikea’s visualization application even uses AI machine learning algorithms to compare a photograph of any piece of furniture against the contents of the Ikea catalogue for the closest product match. 

West Elm has taken a different engagement approach, offering home décor video conference backgrounds for online meetings, and taking shoppers on virtual tours of their showrooms. 

Skincare brand Lancome has created an immersive online pop-up that uses chatbots to send customers on a skincare discovery journey through a virtual replica of their physical store, while 

makeup brands like Maybelline, Sephora, and CoverGirl are using virtual try-on features to let shopper layer makeup over their own photograph to preview their look. 

Retailers have leveraged these innovations to enhance and personalize the retail experience through technology, and these innovative strategies are gaining traction, helping foster long-term brand engagement.