Technology has enabled online shopping or product purchasing from the comfort of one’s own home, and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the process, but not everyone is happy. While the store owners are unhappy about the reduced footfalls, avid shoppers are missing the ‘look and feel’ experience of real world shopping.
Can technology provide a solution here? Well, there already exists the option, it is just a matter of adopting it. Welcome to the Virtual Store or Showroom, a near real experience that combines the convenience of shop-from-anywhere with the actual store or showroom experience of ‘checking’ the wares. This is a perfect via media that acts as a bridge between online and offline shopping experience.
Enabled by digital technologies, the Virtual Showroom creates the ambience of a physical store or showroom with 3D animations and computer simulation technologies using Extended Reality or XR, which represents all immersive technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). Using the smartphone, tablet or laptop, customer can ‘walk around’ the virtual showroom and check the products. The showroom can be stocked with different products with extended virtual reality. Several other features are added to enhance the experience like pictures depicting all round view, videos explaining the functions in case of gadgets, live demos, video chats and brochure or catalogue download, etc. The enhanced experience is much different from mere scrolling of product lists with just the basic description provided on most eCommerce portals.
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Once the concept of the virtual showroom technology is understood, it becomes obvious that it can be extended to any business as long as there is a product or service to sell, and customers to buy them. Like any real brick and mortar store – be it a book shop or an electrical appliances store – the virtual showroom is a digital replica of the real store in sync with the digital age, facilitated by technologies like 3D animations and modelling, and immersive reality experience. So regardless of the business one is engaged in – engineered systems, industrial equipment and machinery, electronic goods, industrial hardware – the virtual store or showroom is equally suitable for any business.
The importance of the virtual store or showroom is in the fact that it is a 24x7x365 facility that is open to customers in any part of the globe with just two requisites – a smartphone, tablet or laptop and a network. The trend had begun even before the Internet-enabled eCommerce, the various shopping catalogues facilitating buying by remote. The Covid-19 pandemic reinforced the importance of remote buying when the lockdown forced everyone to stay indoors.
There are many benefits of the virtual store, the first and foremost being accessibility and convenience. The second most important benefit is the cost advantage – for a fraction of the cost of a real store, one can set up a fancy virtual store or showroom with all the bells and whistles with the best quality graphics and 3D animations. A virtual store will never get crowded on weekends or special occasions and rarely run out of stock as the inventory and supply chain would be digitised as well and replenished routinely when stocks run low – so it can serve a much larger customer base.
With all these advantages, one must however still be able to make effective use of the virtual showroom and use of proper technology is the key to this. The aesthetics of the store – physical or virtual – is very important as that is the first impression which will retain or shoo away the customer. Customer engagement is critical and the layout and user experience are important factors. Packing in all the information about the product, offering a 360-degree view, providing the dismantled view where possible and necessary, showing the operation, safety features, etc., are among the things that need special attention. Every genre of products is different and needs a different presentation. This is especially relevant for engineering and industrial products. Selection of the right vendor who can get all these elements together and has good experience of 3D animations could be the proper approach.
Having a proper virtual showroom or store is a good beginning but only half there – it still needs to attract customers. Keeping the existing customers informed about the new developments through a variety of channels – phone calls, e-mails, word of mouth – are traditional methods, effective but not enough. Vigorous SEO activity can certainly help. Promotional offers and sponsored links are also good options. Today social media plays a much bigger role in popularising concepts and apps help in creating the right buzz, so presence on popular platforms, twitter feeds and other such activities should help.
3D animation is the key to a good Virtual Store with its many possibilities and creative interpretation it can lend to the products, explaining features as well as operations. While nothing can substitute a real physical store, in a world moving faster towards a digital way of doing business, every enterprise today needs a virtual presence to cater to the growing trends of online purchasing. In this rapidly increasing clutter, distinguishing the virtual showroom from competitors with some creative inputs is equally important, which only experienced professionals can provide.
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