Tapping the potential of virtual stores – a masterclass for brands

Consumer sentiments and buying behaviour have seen a significant shift with the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown that followed. With almost all retail outlets shut during the lockdown period, and people hesitant to move out of their homes, e-commerce and virtual stores have been seeing increased traction. While e-commerce majors like Amazon, Flipkart have upped their game, hitherto offline brands have also got on to the online shopping bandwagon, setting up virtual stores.

As India opens for business, some shopping behaviours have changed forever. With shoppers now willing to embrace new ways of buying, how can retailers and brands prepare themselves for this new environment? FCB and Networkbay have joined hands for Retail: Day 1, a series of express masterclasses hosted by some of the world’s leading innovators who are working to define new global retail experiences.

As part of the Express Masterclass series, Neha Singh, Founder & CEO - Obsess VR, spoke on ‘Get Out of the Grind: A Masterclass on Virtual Stores’, where she took the viewers through user cases and examples of how brands and retailers are using virtual stores and environments to connect with audiences.

Why virtual stores?

When we think about online shopping, every website looks similar, basically like a grid of thumbnails on a white background where we keep scrolling. This has been a standard e-commerce interface for 25 years and whatever type of product we are buying, whether its fashion, furniture, beauty, everything has the same interface, every product, brand is sold in the same way, especially on mobile. Once you pass the homepage, all websites looks similar.

But today’s younger consumers are more keen on visual content, they expect inner activities and experiences. Experiential has always been talked about in the context of retail for several years, but now it is coming on e-commerce and over the next five years it is expected to be one of the growth factor for the shift from offline to online purchases. The promise of virtual stores is to take the database like dry TDS interface into something that is really visual and creative and contextual to the type of product. If you’re buying fashion, it’s not going to be the exact same experience while buying furniture, it is potentially custom designed for every brand and for every collection within the brand and that’s the promise of virtual stores.

Moving forward, we had brief information about what exactly is the virtual store via video of 3D 360 degree visual of a virtual store. It was like a flat experience on how normally web pages are. Specialty of this experience was we could see space from all sides, it was like a special format that is close to how we actually shop in life and is a complete visual interface. It is all about making a very interactive online shopping experience and also immersive to getting customers in that world of the brand. Virtual stores also mean that they do not have to look like a retail store, that’s the cool thing about virtual stores. The whole point of virtual stores is that you can get creative with the types of experiences that you’re building. Essentially, virtual stores increase customer engagement, and customers’ loyalty increases conversion rates.

Creation of virtual stores

There are two primary types of virtual stores. First is that you can photograph a retail store, take that real store physical experience and make it interactive and shopable online.

The second and quite popular way is digitally rendered, where instead of photographs, the whole space is actually created in 3D using computer graphics. It is the same technology used in movies, with this technology you can create any sort of experience from shopping to games. It’s very flexible in terms of how you can maintain it over the long term and potentially pull the e- commerce speed directly into this experience and populate the virtual store.

Another piece is the distinction between the virtual stores and augmented reality. So far we looked at the virtual experience to discovery of products in addition to that you can also use the phone camera to bring products into the real life in front of you, this is augmented reality.


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