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It happened so quickly. Thanks to COVID, the buying habits of a growing majority of American consumers have changed forever, even among shoppers who previously had resisted buying online. And few believe there will ever be a return to the old normal where people actually went shopping. Somewhere. Anywhere.

While today’s storefront is as close as the consumer’s smartphone or laptop, it doesn’t mean the importance of customer service or relationship building has been diminished.

Think of what people want when they step foot into a retailer’s physical or virtual front door.

  • They want merchandise to be well organized and easily accessible.
  • They want to browse the store without being descended upon by over-zealous staff, yet want to be able to get their questions quickly answered by knowledgeable, courteous store personnel.
  • They want to get a sense of the store’s retail ambience that often plays a part in creating customer affinity and brand preference.
  • They want their transactions to be secure within a wide array of payment options.

Successful retailers typically satisfy these customer requirements at point of sale. But many still struggle to emulate their in-store experience online, even though the majority have engaged in e-commerce for years.

Clothing retailers have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic owing to consumer reluctance to try things on in a fitting room. Local restrictions and store policies also have had a chilling effect on this common in-store practice.

Necessity being the mother of invention, fashion, beauty product and jewelry retailers are turning to augmented reality technology that is giving consumers a growing number of choices to virtually try on clothing, shoes, cosmetics, eyeglasses – even a new haircut or eyebrow shape.

Yael Vizel, a former captain in the Israeli air force, parlayed her experience using telecommunications software to map the Earth’s topographies to similarly map the contours of the human body.

Her company, Zeekit, developed the first dynamic virtual fitting room, giving online consumers the opportunity to visualize themselves in any item of clothing found online.

Even where retailers don’t need to accommodate a personal fitting of sorts, product demonstrations often are a critical component of online sales. While web sites routinely are populated with video demos and how to’s, retailers will increasingly rely on web conferencing platforms such as Zoom to recreate relationship-building interpersonal connections with their consumers.

At a minimum, online chat features will facilitate dialogue in real time. In-store staff will split their time serving customers who walk through the door and visit remotely.

If nothing else, once the pandemic is over, this sea-change in buying behavior should make such variables as bad weather or store location limited or inconsequential factors that influence retail sales.

As long as the servers don’t crash.