“Will Online Appointments Replace Face-to-Face Shopping?” by John Federman via Total Retail

“Will Online Appointments Replace Face-to-Face Shopping?” by John Federman via Total Retail

The whole state of retail is in flux — and it’s anybody’s guess what the future holds for consumers, retailers and shopping, especially as the holiday season approaches.

All we know is that consumers and retailers alike want to get back to normal. But what will normal be? Will consumers ever feel truly safe shopping face to face, or will online appointments become the next normal?

The truth is it will be both, at least for the time being. It will boil down to the consumer, their age, health, personality, and how they feel about the COVID-19 pandemic itself. How retailers engage these different dynamics as consumers contemplate their future shopping habits is crucial.

No doubt, consumers and retailers would like to go back to February, when shoppers could brush against each other without gasping, touching fabrics wasn’t frowned upon, and Clorox wipes weren’t a luxury. However, for most consumers, feeling comfortable returning to physical stores comes with many caveats and rules. And for the elderly and the health-compromised, it’s a confusing, if not daunting, time.

Related story: Omnichannel: The Future of Retail

Getting Back In-Store

To gain consumer confidence in getting people back in-store, retailers will have to take stringent precautions like providing a means to manage queuing, in-store capacity and foot traffic, as well as provide frequent cleanings and enforcing social distancing requirements. Lack of contact will force personal service. Once the parameters are in place, it will be up to the consumer to “play by the rules.” Will we? Or will the rules be so overwhelming that we throw our arms up and opt for a different way.

Enter Online Shopping Appointments

Online shopping appointments offer retailers the ability to make deep connections with customers through a more personalized experience with fewer hassles, rules and requirements. There will be little to no interruptions or distractions, enabling a higher level of service. How many times have you been standing in line at a store when the phone rings and the customer service representative asks you to wait “one minute”?

Online appointments enable retailers to interact one to one with customers offering tailored experiences, getting “up close and personal” at a safe distance. And for the elderly, health-compromised, or those who aren’t comfortable going back in-store (yet), online shopping appointments will surge.

Online appointments will fare especially well among specialty stores and boutique services. For example, in an initial online bridal consult, the bride or groom can narrow down several apparel choices prior to an in-person appointment, which will significantly cut down time in-store. At a beauty counter, the consultant can provide a one-to-one online makeup demo, and although the customer cannot physically try the products, the consultant is actually able to see them eye to eye, albeit online, while maintaining the rules of social distancing. From a sales perspective, having the full attention of the customer is a bonus. And for the customer, having the retailer provide a tailored assortment to meet specific needs is a luxury.

So, What Will it Be?

Eventually we will get back to normal. Malls will once again be packed, we will vie for parking spots, and checkout lines will exasperate. Yet for many, shopping, at least in the immediate future, will be different. You’ll see a flux of people who decide that online appointments, while not replacing the physical shopping experience, is a pretty good alternative.

John Federman is CEO of JRNI, a company designed to facilitate powerful personalized experiences that increase conversion and revenue, customer loyalty, and lifetime value, both in person and remotely.

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