CX in retail: How to make virtual shopping experiences work in a physical world

Fujitsu / April 26, 2024

As a retailer, you’ll recognize that, for the last two decades, there have been two distinct shopping environments – the physical store and the online store. This dichotomy has long defined customer experience (CX) in retail, with businesses tending to treat both spaces as separate entities. But as people increasingly shop online, what about retail experiences in a completely digital space?

As a customer-facing industry, retail has always been at the forefront of the digital era, with many retailers quick to swap bricks for clicks. Following the unstoppable march of ecommerce, retailers are now exploring new avenues to enhance customer engagement. We’re seeing a slow but steady increase in the use of technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) – an augmentation of a real-world setting – and, to a lesser extent, Virtual Reality (VR) – a completely virtual environment. Some would argue this warrants an entirely new retail model, but is that really true? And what does it mean for CX?

Read on to learn how to best approach virtual world shopping and get the most value from these technologies. So, you can enhance CX in a sustainable world and reap the benefits this can bring to your business.

The modern shopper’s demands

CX is both a science and an art form. Speed, convenience, and cost are still among the top priorities for us, as customers. However, the modern shopper has higher expectations and places a lot of value on experience. Particularly, personalized experience. From wanting a seamless checkout to choosing retailers that match their ethical values, Millennials and Gen Zs are the main drivers of this. And they’re expected to account for 70% of the working age population by 2030, becoming the majority of the world’s consumers. This group are also the most engaged and tech-savvy, which gives retailers all the more reason to explore ways they can harness new digital platforms – with the goal of gaining the trust and loyalty of modern customers.

However, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of the ‘human’ element. Human interaction is still a powerful and persuasive force in retail – however much technology matures in the coming years. That’s because effective CX entails an emotional connection being made. Take, for example, the rise in popularity of social influencers online. This marketing tactic works because of the human presence. Similarly, many customers still prefer to interact with a sales person in store, rather than using cashier-less devices. But add a human to this process (say, connecting with staff digitally) and you can satisfy customers while remaining efficient with automated devices. For retailers, it’s all about finding out where the ‘human’ element is best placed to meet the needs of customers and enable inclusive shopping experiences.

Added value makes the difference

Both VR and AR, although promising, are still in their infancy. Retailers are starting to experiment with these technologies, but very few businesses have established how best to use them due to a limited understanding of the possibilities. The metaverse, in particular, can be seen as an intriguing digital playground, but not much more than that yet. Similarly, widespread adoption of VR to simulate a real store is unlikely in the near future. For instance, gamified supermarkets now exist, where customers can ‘walk’ around the virtual store, placing items in their baskets. This might appeal more to future generations, but for many it’s still quicker to order a delivery via mobile apps, using ‘click and collect’ services.

Retailers do seem to have found uses for AR, on the other hand. For instance, overlay filters for mobiles to simulate a piece of furniture in someone’s home, or how cosmetic products will look when applied. These innovative uses of AR help customers in their buying decisions and are convenient to use. Therefore, it stands to reason that ecommerce technology shouldn’t be thought of as equating to a complete replacement of the store. Instead, it should be viewed as a value-adding extension of existing products and services – one that enhances CX. In retail especially, the costs of investing must always be justified. So, it’s important not to get swept up by technology ‘hype’ and focus on the value it can add to the customer journey.

The reality for physical shopping

The emergence of AR and VR technologies prompts a critical question for retail leaders: How can these digital spaces be seamlessly integrated with the physical shopping environment? While physical shopping will endure in some capacity, it’s destined to undergo significant transformation and become more fragmented over time. This is already evident in the evolving landscape of high streets. Different markets will move at different speeds, but physical shopping will still exist far into the future where it adds value, especially for hospitality and the food and drink industry.

This is why, in order to optimize CX, there needs to be a convergence of today’s disconnected experiences, transactions, and operations across different touchpoints. Because, whether on a website or in the metaverse, it’s one thing to have a digital version of your store, it’s entirely another to have a seamless blend of online-to-offline (O2O) environments. By achieving true omni-channel convergence, you can engage with customers across all touchpoints and offer a frictionless experience throughout the buying journey.

From initial browse through to selection and purchase, or from store click and collect to last-mile delivery, this blending creates a borderless world of retail. One where physical and digital environments work in concert to ensure your customers can shop however they want to. But how do you get there? The short answer is: data is key. With the right technology in place to collate and analyze customer data, you can gain sight of the end-to-end CX journey via all channels. This not only gives you the visibility to remove any sticking points, but also understand the key ‘micro’ moments that delight your customers. For example, sending personalized communications, offering convenient delivery slots, or sharing information on the provenance of products at the point of sale So, you can amp these moments up and double-down on personalization to optimize CX.

Let’s design future-ready retail

With the growing use of emerging technology and virtual world shopping in retail, it’s clear that CX now has a much more fluid definition. Innovating and adopting new technologies is critical for moving forward and catering for your customers’ needs. Capturing and analyzing data effectively across channels and functions will drive front-end change and back-end simplicity, so you can build a seamless end-to-end customer journey and grow your business. However, it’s essential to have the right partner to guide you in this process.

At Fujitsu, we have the knowhow and experience to help you define your vision and deliver it in affordable and achievable steps. Our portfolio of solutions and innovative technologies will help you transform your CX, drive growth, and meet your sustainability goals. Our global reach, along with our partner GK Software – a leader in retail solutions for 30 years – means we can provide trusted end-to-end implementation, services, and support. So, you can get the most value out of your retail solutions and become future-ready, increase sales, and ensure a positive impact on the planet.

John Pink
Senior Vice President, Global Head of Consumer Experience, Uvance at Fujitsu
John is responsible for delivering growth, customer satisfaction and Fujitsu’s sustainability-led Uvance vision to our customers across the world. With a strong commercial background in the media, financial services and consumer industries, John is bringing new cross-industry business propositions to market, driving growth, enhanced consumer experiences and sustainability goals. As a GK Software Supervisory Board member, he leads the collaboration with our strategic reseller partner on offering co-development and business growth to meet the needs of a changing world.

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