More home retailers around the world are launching virtual consultations with customers to circumnavigate the Covid-19 lockdown. The  lockdown has initiated these services. However, they may linger and spread throughout retail as previous inertia among customers about using video conferencing erodes.

John Lewis launched ‘Partners through It All’ on 15 April 2020. Customers are able to book a free hour-long video meeting with a specialist in interior design, nursery advisor or personal fashion consultant. The consultants can answer customer questions and make recommendations on future purchases. After the session has finished, the customer receives a prospective shopping list of the products discussed. Other UK retailers have also launched their own remote consultations. Kitchen specialists Wren and Magnet have introduced remote-design appointments with customers able to place a deposit on the finalised design.

Virtual consultations go international

International retailers are also either launching or extending their capacity for virtual consultations. American electricals specialist Best Buy moved all their in-home appointments to online on 18 March 2020. Appointments take between 60 and 90 minutes over the phone, via webchat or through video. They focus on pre-purchase research rather than support and repairs. The French DIY pureplay ManoMano has also developed its own consultation offer, AlloMano, which launched on 2 April 2020. This service places homeowners in contact with tradesmen who talk them through small electrical and plumbing jobs as well as other tasks around the home such as assembling and repairing furniture. Homeowners and tradesmen communicate with each other over the phone or via webchat.

Customer services enhanced by virtual consulations

Virtual consultations will allow retailers to offer greater levels of customer service, which has historically been a downfall for pureplays. Some pureplays have tried a similar offer. ASOS launched a chatbot called Enki though Google Assistant in October 2018, which highlighted new products, and Thread & StitchFix which gauges tastes through the items you keep or return. However, these all lack the human touch or the speed in making appropriate recommendations. Consultations also provide an enhanced personal shopper offer, as the retailer can gain more context about a shopper’s tastes. Through video conferencing, retailers are able to see a wider selection of a shopper’s wardrobe, their favourite items and the current interior of the room they want to refresh. This enables more personalised recommendations than would be possible in store.

Consumer confidence will speed the take up

Shoppers feeling more comfortable about using video conferencing technology will help this service gain traction across retail. Prior to the lockdown, few shoppers had the software or confidence to allow people access over webcam with shoppers wanting such a service via the store. However, now consumers are using video meetings for work and with friends and family, they are happy to do so elsewhere. Premium clothing retailers can recreate John Lewis’s personal stylist offer, with the potential to offer early access to upcoming ranges for its best customers. Electricals retailers could also use video calls for tech support, with customers sharing their screen and talking through problems.

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By GlobalData