Experiential commerce: the missing link between in-store shopping and eCommerce?

James Morris-Manuel
16 August, 21

The retail sector is revolutionising itself. In the past eighteen months, the number of consumers shopping in UK stores dropped from 87%-50%, according to the British Retail Consortium. But as consumers continue to shop online in droves, many are growing tired of the browsing experience. Research from EY suggests that nearly 50% of UK consumers are suffering from “digital fatigue” due to browsing page after page of two-dimensional, catalogue-type eCommerce websites. Indeed, Matterport’s latest survey on the Future of Retail shows that although consumers prefer the convenience of shopping online and are energised by the way online retail is evolving, they long for more compelling shopping experiences.

Today’s consumers want to interact with a brand in more exciting ways, and seek a deeper engagement than scrolling through a two-dimensional site. The solution? Blending the experience of physical shops and ecommerce into a unified virtual world that delivers exciting experiences – and gives retailers an edge.

Bridging the gap between bricks-and-mortar and eCommerce

According to Accenture, 73% of retailers believe virtual environments will enhance interactions and experiences in physical environments. While most retailers have adapted their operations in the past year to deliver some kind of omnichannel offering, forward-thinking businesses are already exploring new and more immersive ways to merge digital and physical worlds in order to set themselves apart from competitors. Nike launched its new Milan store with a 3D digital twin virtual experience, giving consumers far and wide an exclusive opportunity to visit the store virtually before the physical store had even opened. Nissan brought cars to consumers through its UK showroom digital twin, providing immersive 3D experiences where users could look in and around vehicles – something only possible by creating an authentic replica of each vehicle, rather than using computer-generated models. 

Faced with ongoing pressure to innovate in the face of changing consumer preferences, more and more retailers are adopting these types of digital-first experiences and exploring the realm of Extended Reality (XR) – virtual, mixed, and augmented reality environments. Immersive shopping and virtual pop-ups are becoming mainstream, largely because of the increased quality and accessibility of the technology. Fast and easy to produce using AI-powered 3D scanning technology, retailers can create a digital twin – a virtual replica – of a physical store environment, unlocking numerous opportunities for consumer engagement and conversion.

Immersive retail experiences offer new conversion opportunities

Although once considered futuristic, it is now a tangible reality for retailers to let consumers virtually visit a new shop before it even opens its doors, browse the latest promotions, get a feel for a product before even touching it, try on new clothes virtually, and even visualise how new purchases would look within their homes. Integrating video, links to items, embedded tags and product information, specification and features is simple, and accelerates the decision-making process, representing enormous untapped conversion potential. Guiding consumers every step of the way is just like having a sales representative there to offer advice – all without needing to leave the virtual environment; and all accessible to consumers in a three-dimensional, photorealistic representation from the comfort of their homes.

Staying one step ahead with digital twin technology

Virtual experiences using digital twins will be a key differentiator to enabling survival in retail – while much has been made of the boom in eCommerce, shops provide an engaging connection that brings products to life in ways that eCommerce websites simply cannot. Immersive, digital-first experiences are forming an increasingly integral element of a retailer’s omnichannel strategy, and successful retailers will be those who incorporate digital twins as part of the overall retail experience. In a world increasingly dominated by huge online marketplace eCommerce platforms, digital twin technology is a new way for retailers to reach consumers in tandem with traditional bricks and mortar experiences.

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