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Virtual Shopping Finds Its Moment

July 03, 2020 at 04:00PM

Virtual shopping is having a pandemic-driven moment. Several retail brands as well as designers have taken this twist on personal shopping to a new application. For example, Tanger Outlets last week announced the launch of a virtual shopping concierge service that takes shoppers to its outlets without leaving home. Now that its outlets are open, the company still sees utility for the application.

“The Virtual Shopper program will open a new lane of engagement, driving sales to our retail partners, while also expanding shopping opportunities for our customers,” said Steven B. Tanger, CEO of Tanger Outlets. “Given the ever-changing landscape related to the COVID-19 pandemic, constant innovation is more critical than ever before when it comes to serving retailers and customers. The Virtual Shopper program is part of the solution and one of our new initiatives to support the ecommerce and omni-channel ecosystem.”

The Tanger mobile-based virtual shopping platform enables shoppers to tour its outlet centers across multiple retailers via onsite shopping specialists and stylists. It provides a range of services, from finding a specific product to recommendations on styles across Tanger’s entire portfolio, not just the outlet center nearest them. Shoppers use the app by filling out a virtual shopping form detailing their preferences for products, brands and styles with a personal shopper, who then shops in-store at Tanger Outlets on their behalf. Shoppers can opt for curbside pickup or have the items delivered to their home.

The virtual shopper concept has also been put into play by some luxury brands. Gucci has launched a virtual shopping service, which allows customers to communicate with store staff through a video chat. Gucci Live, as the new service is called, establishes a link between shoppers and staff in a high-tech “fake store” in Florence. “Gucci 9” has been designed as an empty store that allows customers to shop online from continents away.

“The mission of our Gucci 9 global service center is to provide our customers around the world with a direct connection to the Gucci community that is a seamless, always accessible, personalized experience,” Marco Bizzarri, president and CEO of Gucci said. “The service is delivered according to the values that define and differentiate our brand today: a human touch powered by technology.”

It has also been used by individual designers. For example, Kelly Faetanini, the founder of an independent bridal brand based in New York who started selling her wedding dresses exclusively to retailers in 2012, launched a virtual shopping program for brides as the pandemic took hold at the end of April.

“We’d never sold directly to the consumer, instead we sold to 55 stores, globally,” she told The New York Times. “But we had to do something because stores were closed and the [number of] emails from brides who were desperately looking for gowns was huge.”

Faetanini’s “Try At Home” program allows brides to shop directly on the brand’s website, which the brand had not done before. After filling out a questionnaire, brides schedule a 30-minute Zoom consultation with an in-house salesperson.

“We are in a moment of tension — people yearn to explore, yet they fear exploration will bring exposure,” says a future of retail report in Harvard Business Review. “The biggest room for innovation lies in experiential escapes. For many, these terms bring up associations of VR headsets, dizzying screens, and loud spaces that scream ‘more is more.’ More restrained and effective expressions can be found in fashion brands like Acne, Celine, and Gentle Monster, where the store serves as an artistic escape into their brand ethos. Imaginative installations, rich materials, and a uniting storyline allow the space to speak for itself — the physical details, which go beyond a one-dimensional Instagram backdrop, embody the same feelings you associate with the brand.”

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