How to use Virtual Shelves to Increase Retail Sales
written by Giles Corbett
Blog17th December 2019
You can augment your physical stock by giving customers access to a virtual shelf.
These ‘virtual shelves’ are simply a tablet or a digital kiosk that gives customers access to an extended range of products and options.
Before we get into the elements of a successful virtual shelf solution, it’s interesting to note that this technology effectively unites the richness of a physical experience with the scale and economy of digital retail. Using a virtual shelf to bolster your real-world shopping options means you have the advantages that ecommerce brands covet, as well as the benefits they already enjoy.
This push for the convergence of the offline and online is clearly embodied by Amazon. They might be one of the world’s largest companies, but their retail division still struggles to compete with established brands with long histories of real-world trading. According to Investopedia, Amazon is the only digital native in the top 10 retailers in 2019, and they are placed seventh behind Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger, Walgreens Boots, Tesco and France’s Carrefour.
Amazon seems keen to climb the rankings, and is currently rolling out a new batch of grocery stores. Distinct from their Whole Foods supermarkets and their Amazon Go pop-up stores, the new Amazon supermarkets are expected to provide a traditional retail experience – presumably with an injection of technology to make the experience distinctive, convenient and competitive.
Virtual shelves or endless aisles are simple devices that allow customers to browse and order your products in-stores. They typically take the form of touchscreen tablets or digital kiosks. Customers can either use them independently, or sales assistants can use them to assist customers to find particular products – or to help them explore the range.
The essential value of an endless aisle solution is that it reduces the number of people who leave your stores empty-handed. And customers who do make a purchase can also find more of the products they are looking for. This means fewer frustrated customers and higher revenues inside your stores.
A common misconception with virtual shelves and endless aisle solutions is that the technology exists to replace human sales assistants. In our experience this is rarely the motivation for implementing a new sales platform.
Instead, a virtual shelf should be treated as a sales tool. Your sales assistants use the app to address a greater range of customer needs. When a customer asks for a style of trainer in a different colour, the sales assistant can guide the customer to the kiosk. Together, they can explore the available options. Endless aisle solutions are also helpful when addressing customer questions about product specifications. All of the product information can be at the fingertips of your sales assistants, as well as additional product shots or examples of the product in use.
Aiming to use virtual shelves in conjunction with your sales team doesn’t preclude the prospect of inviting customers to browse and buy directly. As we’ll discuss later, it’s important that customers can easily find their way around a relevant range of products, find product information and place orders themselves. Self-service should be a viable option.
The term ‘endless aisle’ is often misleading. Rather than making an infinite range of products available, it is usually beneficial to reduce complexity and prevent customers from feeling overwhelmed. Instead of making everything available to browse and buy, retailers must focus the app on hero products and best-sellers.
Merchandising can be supported by contextualising what the app displays. For example, alongside beds, you might have virtual shelves showing bed linen and duvets. In a denim section you might only highlight other jeans.
Your endless aisle solution will succeed or fail depending on how appealing it is to use. If customers learn that they can use the platform to find what they need, and that orders are delivered promptly and accurately, then uptake of the platform will only increase.
A refined user experience is essential at every touchpoint. From first interaction with the endless aisle screen, through the browsing process and basket-filling, and on to payment and delivery, customers will quickly lose interest if the experience doesn’t inspire confidence.
While online shopping has become normalised over the last few decades, far fewer customers have interacted with a hybrid solution like virtual shelves. The technology is young, and customers may need some encouragement to take the first step.
Just as online retailers work hard to reduce stress and increase trust in their websites, retailers must be sensitive to the reservations that customers may have about embracing a new technology. Questions must be answered and reassurances provided. For example, customers need to know about delivery options, returns policies, and how you protect their data.
Ksubaka solutions help retailers around the world to engage customers, gather data and convert more sales. Our Endless Aisle solution is a fast and convenient way to extend the range of your retail stores.