How Retailers Can Bring In-store Experiences to Online Shopping Channels

Recent years have pushed retailers into a new tech-driven landscape to meet the evolving needs and expectations of the customers. For online-only and digital-first retailers, this shift has come a little easier, but as more brands have to think outside the box for in-person and brick-and-mortar retail, creativity and new channel adoption have become the name of the game. 

Retail has always partially been about the experience. Customers love to shop and retailers love to provide them with that experience. With the pandemic and changes to in-person retail, new channels have emerged to enable retailers to provide their customers with the same high-touch experience in a low-touch world. 

For most upmarket retailers, the first shift was to create online stores and offer options like buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS). From the Square Future of Retail report, shoppers make 37% of their monthly retail purchases online, and among retailers selling online, 51% of their revenue now comes from online sales. Following the success of online shopping channels, retailers are looking at innovative technology solutions that elevate their customer experience even more. 

QR code window retail

Breakfast at Tiffany’s gave window shopping its glamor and now QR codes are giving it it’s practicality. Window displays have been a successful sales and marketing tactic since the start of brick-and-mortar retail, and now with QR codes the store doesn’t even have to be open for customers to make their purchases. The Square Future of Retail report found that 20% of customers are interested in window shopping with QR codes for purchases; among Millennials, that number jumps to 27%.

Social retail

75% of retailers surveyed in the Square Future of Retail report say that they are now selling on social media. Whether it’s through a fully shoppable store or flash sales, social selling is made possible by eCommerce tools, helping retailers reach more customers at a time when people may be even more glued to their devices. And it’s working — 43% of retailers who sell on social platforms say half or more of their revenue comes from social media sales. Retailers are earning the most revenue from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, respectively.

Livestream retail

Over one in three retailers are going to invest in livestream shopping in 2022. Shopping over video or livestream became popular during the pandemic when retailers were looking for ways to show products and engage with customers, and it’s since continued to grow. Livestreaming can be as simple as using an iPad to show customers what’s in-store through a virtual shopping appointment, or by using Instagram Stories to showcase new stock that just arrived.

“We’ve seen retailers use livestream sales to interact with customers in real time. Viewers start interacting with each other and can even get to know each other over recurring livestreams. The shared love of a niche product, or the personality of the streaming hosts, pulls people together,” says Katie Miller, Product Marketing Manager, Square.

21% of customers are interested in livestream shopping where a host demonstrates a product in a live online video; among Millennials, that number jumps to 35%.

VR retail

Ten years ago the idea of shopping for tangible goods in a virtual reality environment seemed like something out of The Jetsons, but in today’s world it’s not a far-off idea. Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial, simulated environment that provides an immersive experience, and the Square Future of Retail report found that 30% of retailers are going to implement (VR) shopping to help customers experience products before adding them to their carts. Online shoppers want a deeper understanding of products before adding them to their cart, and VR tech can be an effective way to improve the overall try-before-you-buy experience. Twenty-three percent of customers are interested in virtual reality that allows people to experience products in a virtual shop; among Millennials, that number jumps to 33%.

Samantha Shih, the owner of Boston-based custom clothing boutique 9Tailors, is investing in new, virtual experiences. “Currently you can shop on our site, buy things that you might need for your workwear. But we’re actually also investing in technology that will allow returning customers and new customers to see what types of design options we have to offer, in a more dynamic way,” she says. “We have a 3D rendering of an actual suit that will change dynamically,” explains Shih,who adds that the company is also investing in Augmented Reality (AR) technology so customers can virtually try on suits.

For upmarket retailers, your customer experience is a hugely important aspect of your retail business. Whether you are launching livestream shopping, elevating window shopping, or experimenting with AR or VR, there are a few best practices to launch these new channels successfully. 

  • Have a schedule for your events so customers know what to expect.
  • When you market your new offerings, consider using email, SMS, social media, and in-store signage to reach your existing customers.
  • Capture new customers’ information when they attend your virtual and in-person events, or scan a QR code and allow them to opt-in to newsletters and other ongoing communications from your business.