From where you’re seated you can see the vague outline of an intriguing black leather bag.
Your instinct is to reach out for it, but the shelf is beyond your grasp.
So you ask your companion to see if she can fetch it down…and then you remember where you are and quickly lower your voice so as not to bother your colleagues hard at work around you.
The only drawback to having your own personal online shopper is the temptation to join them on a remote in-store bargain hunt when you should instead be nose deep in work.
But such will be the moral dilemma of a future where personal video conferencing assistants take the place of bots and online profiles to bring us a completely personalized online and in-store retail experience.
Online Business Is Booming
It’s no secret that online retail is a boom industry in the U.S. Online sales made up a third of the country’s retail sales growth in 2015, and it’s estimated that more than 270 million people will spend an annual $523 billion on e-commerce by 2020.
In order to get as large a slice of that very big pie as possible and mark themselves as an above average customer experience, more and more companies are introducing live video chat to their websites. As many as 100 of the 500 largest global businesses will have video in place to service their customers by next year. Embedded video conferencing service currently covers everything from cars to jewelry.
Such two-way video communication offers a higher sales conversion rate than static online catalog browsing, chiefly by replicating the face-to-face, in-store experience for customers, without making them trek Main Street for hours in search of that special something.
Given the amount of products and businesses available on the web–there are 110,000 e-commerce sites generating “meaningful” revenue already–an online search can be as much of a trek as a real world one. Which is why we need a more human way to sort through it all.
Your Online Personal Shopper
That overwhelming mess of online choice has given rise to a breed of collating sites that scour the internet for us to compare and summarize the offerings of potentially hundreds of websites. These services then present us with a sample of the best available flights, hotel offers, and sporting and concert tickets.
It’s the same idea that propelled the growth of malls and department stores–everything in one place. So, using the proliferation in video chat services, why not combine the collating power of an online search with the intimacy and interaction of a department store sales staff?
Enter the online personal shopper.
As a dedicated third-party entity, the personal shopper could speak to you directly over a video conference chat to find out about your vital statistics, your shopping tendencies, and your choice of style, and then spend their day searching for all manner of retail items you’ll find interesting.
Any kind of video conferencing platform could provide the necessary link between client and shopping surrogate, as long as it had the versatility to get mobile across smartphones and tablets.
And why would mobility be important?
Because we’ll want our personal shoppers to be to escort us through an in-store experience as well as an online one.
Video Conferencing Online and In-Store
While there are dozens of online stylists available to help you with your remote shopping, most are tied to a specific brand or department store.
However, an independent, third-party personal shopper is free to pursue your fashion sense across any company, and to step outside the fashion world altogether and help you find your next toaster, car, or even mobile carrier.
Aside from sifting through the online options we don’t have time to sift through, they can also pick up a smartphone and virtually take us to the brick-and-mortar retailers we physically can’t access–or the ones the search engine can’t access, either.
Some retailers are already offering live, see-what-I-see guided tours of their shops via smart glasses, but again, we want our shopping proxy to have the freedom to roam through any retailer and down any Main Street.
And it doesn’t have to be our local Main Street they explore. We could use our shopper’s colleagues in other states and other countries to see what’s on the rack in New York, L.A., London, Milan, or Tokyo. Of course, we’d use a group chat to make sure our own personal shopper, who knows so much about us, is there for the ride as well.
For the cost of an annual subscription you could have a world of retail choice at your disposal, and a very welcome and discreet distraction from work at your fingertips.
Image Source: Flickr CC User Franklin Heijnen