In this article, we’re sharing the in’s and out’s of virtual showrooms, taking a closer look at why they are beneficial and how they could be useful for your brand. Let’s dive in by starting with the basics.
What Is a Virtual Showroom?
Retailers create virtual showrooms to allow customers to view their products in a virtual environment, replicating the experience of entering a physical store, where you can see, explore, and interact with a product in order to make a more informed purchasing decision. What makes virtual showrooms especially unique is that each experience in the digital platform can offer an immersive and interactive shopping experience that’s highly personalized to the individual shopper’s preferences.
As the buying population shifts to Millenials and Gen Z, virtual showrooms are quickly becoming a key part of the experiential retail experience. And stores are embracing the change. By taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase their products digitally, many brands are seeing the immense value these interactive, virtual showrooms offer.
For example, let’s say you’re shopping for a pair of pants that you want to wear to go hiking and your favorite outdoor retailer offers a virtual showroom experience. You enter a virtual showroom, and a store employee avatar offers to walk you through the store, showing you what types of outdoor clothing they offer. However, if you’d prefer to browse on your own, that’s an option, too. As you pass a particular display or product, you can interact with it, getting an experience of how the product looks and functions. Additionally, information balloons may pop up to tell you what is on display in front of you. If you’d prefer to go directly to a specific item, you can also type in a product or category to search for it and be directed there. After you find a pair of pants you’d like to try, many stores offer a virtual try on experience as a part of their showroom offering. Once you confirm which hiking pants you want to purchase, you can check out and order the product within the platform. Choose to have it delivered or confirm that you’d like it prepared for pickup at your local brick and mortar store. Voila!
By reading this, you’re already getting a flavor for the many advantages of virtual showrooms – which leads us to…
The Benefits of an Online Showroom
There are numerous benefits to setting up an online, virtual presence for your retail business, including:
Leveling Up the Customer Experience
As we’ve touched on, customers want a personalized shopping experience from the minute they enter a store (both virtually and in person). Virtual showrooms level up traditional shopping by being more convenient, highly customized, and fun for customers to try out. By allowing people to browse products without the need to travel to physical stores, you’re automatically providing an opportunity for them to have a good experience with your brand from the comfort of their own home. This fun, interactive offering allows customers to shop your brand, explore your products, and make the best possible purchasing decisions for them, which in turn, builds brand loyalty.
For example, as a customer browses a virtual showroom (or is shown around by interacting with an employee avatar – either or), information “balloons” pop up to tell you what is on display in front of them. Customers can also type in a product or category to search for within the store, and be directed right there within milliseconds. New level of shopping experience officially unlocked.
Access to a Wider Range of Products
While brick and mortar stores naturally have a limit on how many products you can show, virtual showrooms can showcase everything with no limitations on space or inventory. This unique feature allows shoppers to discover more product options that suit their needs, while also giving the retailer flexibility in what to offer for products and promotions. Plus, if something needs to change, updates can be made on the digital platform at the drop of a hat. Easy peasy.
Cost Savings for the Customer and the Retailer
In the win-win category, virtual showrooms are both cost-effective for retailers and customers. Retailers can reduce the need for physical store space, staffing, and other expenses associated with operating a brick-and-mortar store, if need be, which can lead to lower prices for shoppers. Plus, there is basically little-to-no overhead to setting up these virtual showrooms. For shoppers, they reap the benefits of saving commuting dollars to travel to and from the store. Like we said, win-win.
Virtual showrooms can also have environmental benefits by reducing the need for transportation to physical stores, as well as the energy and resources required to operate physical stores. In a day and age when companies are increasingly more cognizant of their carbon footprint, this is a huge factor to consider.
Greater Customer Intelligence for Brands to Continue Improving
One of the biggest issues companies face is making sure they’re seeing the brand through the eyes of the consumer – but with virtual showrooms, they can. Digital retail offers brands greater customer intelligence that may help guide their marketing and business decisions. For example, you have the ability to track information for each customer that enters a virtual showroom, noting what products they looked at, how long they interacted with a product for, which product they ended up purchasing, etc.
Further, if you want to push a specific product to your customers, virtual tours may guide customers to an area that leads them to a specific product you want them to see. From there, you can evaluate the experience with that product to inform your investment in marketing it. You could call it mind reading, but we like to say it’s all part of the platform functionality.
Omni-channel Marketing at it’s Finest
Last, but certainly not least, brands are always looking for ways to build a multi-layered approach to their customer shopping experience both in-store and online – this is also known today as building an omni-channel retail strategy . Virtual showrooms are a key part of the online experience for customers because it builds off of the brick and mortar experience by allowing the customer journey to continue beyond physical walls.
How To Create Your Own Interactive Showroom in 5 Steps
If you’ve gotten to this point and you’re like, “yes, I’m ready to sign on the dotted line and set up my own virtual showroom”, we have some tips to help you out.
Step 1. Define Your Virtual Showroom Goals
Before setting up a virtual showroom, you should define your goals and objectives. Determine what products you want to showcase, who your target audience is, and what features you want to offer in your virtual showroom.
Step 2. Find Your Best Fit Platform
There are several software options available for setting up virtual showrooms, but the most important thing is to find a partner platform team that will help you realize your virtual showroom needs from idea to execution. We encourage you to find a collaborative partner that will help you set everything up correctly from the get go so that your inevitable updates down the line are turnkey and inexpensive.
Step 3. Create Your 3D Models Using Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
Once you’ve defined your objectives and found the best-fit digital platform, it’s design time. This process requires developing CAD 3D models of your brick and mortar store that will aid in the design of your virtual showroom. From layout, to lighting and other design elements, we encourage you to work closely with the platform host to create an inviting, immersive, and engaging experience for the customers that walk through your virtual door.
We will note that investing in the look and feel—like product displays —of your brick and mortar store will help in the design of your virtual store. While this upfront work requires additional capital investment, it’s a worthwhile one.
Step 4. Customize the Customer Journey
During the design process, be sure to pay particular attention to how you enhance the customer experience. Consider adding interactive features such as product customization, product information, and customer reviews so that shoppers have a highly personalized experience walking through your virtual showroom.
Step 5. Test, Optimize, Launch, and Iterate
We know, we know – this sounds like four steps in one, but you get the idea. After doing all the legwork, it’s time to test what you’ve created, optimize everything based on user experience, and launch. Once you’ve launched, it’s important to promote your virtual showroom through your website, social media, and other marketing channels. From there, be sure to iterate on your showroom to always ensure you’re providing the best possible shopping experience for your customers. A happy customer leads to a happy company after all.
Virtual Showrooms at MINT
You’re ready to embark on your phygital brand journey and build out your very own virtual showroom as part of your larger online marketing strategy. Experience MINT is a retail consulting firm that creates omni-channel retail experiences that immerse consumers in the brands they love. From extensive technology platform capabilities, to retail fixture manufacturing expertise, we create a complete turnkey solution for today’s retailers and restaurateurs.
Here’s how we’ve worked with some of our clients.
In 2018, we partnered with b8ta , a Retail As A Service (RAAS) company, to help enhance its brick-and-mortar retail design. As a part of this, Experience MINT partnered with Cogent360 , a company that designs interactive, 3D media environments, to develop a virtual showroom that captures the sleek design and experience of shopping at a b8ta location.
Photo provided by b8ta
Photo provided by Cogent360, pictured is RNR Tire Express’ virtual showroom
Need a partner that understands the virtual retail landscape and can help you execute your vision? Check out our experiential retail services and get in touch to learn more.