How to master virtual selling in retail

Virtual selling allows sales to be made using technology, usually through video. This can help traditionally brick-and-mortar retail brands to engage their target market remotely.

Stellar created a purpose-built virtual retail space for the Sage Appliances brand, called Sage Studios, allowing for first-class omnichannel selling in a post-COVID world.

Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Stellar about virtual selling and the best ways to benefit from introducing this type of technology.

This is what the team at Sage Studio had to say:

1. How important is it that online and brick-and-mortar retailers utilise technology to improve customer experience?

It’s no secret that online shopping has grown increasingly more popular over the last five years. This is due in no small part to technological advancements and the growing desire of consumers to have more convenient options when they shop. In 2021, 29.2% of sales in the UK were made online although over 60% of shoppers still prefer to shop in a physical store thanks to the experience it offers. This trend has been further compounded by COVID-19, with more consumers forced to engage with more brands virtually. The natural consequence of this is that customer expectation has changed dramatically in a short period of time. Now, brands must have an evolved, seamless digital presence to match their physical space. 

The question of importance is really a question of relevance and evolution. Do brands want to meet the growing demands of their customers or don’t they? In a truly hybrid era, where consumers’ shopping experience is forever being defined by technology, there’s no denying that if brands want to continue to deliver the best experience, they need to embrace and utilise everything at their disposal, at every stage of the journey. This doesn’t mean bombarding customers from the word ‘go’, but introducing technology-led experiences along the customers’ journey to ensure a better, more efficient process. One which ultimately secures the sale and lays the foundations for a repeat customer.  Technology is also an enabler for personalisation which becomes more and more critical as demand for retailers and brands to understand shoppers becomes greater.

Virtual selling for omnichannel retail - Sage Appliances

2. Tell us how the idea of Sage Appliances’ new virtual selling retail space has evolved.

We have been working with Sage on retail experiences since 2015 when the brand launched in the UK. Emma Ede, CEO of Stellar, and David Gubbin, President of Sage EMEA, had the idea to take the learnings from this experience in retailers to create a Sage space for both virtual and physical experiences.  Sage launched masterclasses in roasteries across the UK in 2019 and as the pandemic hit we had to find a new solution to support online retail and onboard new owners.  We quickly created a virtual version of the masterclass (with over 500 sign-ups ups in the first 2 days) for onboarding new owners and alongside this created a tool on the Sage Appliances website enabling customers to have a video chat with one of our experts from their home (we had furnished them with machines to demonstrate on).  The enormous success of our pre and post-purchase virtual experience made the decision to launch our own space simple.

In January 2022, we opened Sage Studios, a dedicated venue containing broadcast booths and open kitchen space. 

As a brand with a deep connection to the retail experience, we know all too well the power of seeing, feeling, and experiencing a product before purchasing it. Especially when it’s a high-ticket item. Research carried out by Stellar in 2020 can attest to this fact. Our consumer survey shows that 80% of customers choose to try before they buy when an item costs more than £250.

However product demonstrations are not limited to a physical presence, they can be hosted virtually and experienced remotely. They can also be designed to better enhance viewer engagement by adding subtitles to aid communication or providing follow-up information. The ability to experience demos and get expert insight from your sofa without the hassle of leaving the house is a game-changer.   

For Sage, we designed and built bespoke studios for a variety of content to be professionally filmed and broadcasted and served on multiple platforms. Customers can receive help from real people in real-time from engaged and informative brand experts. Audiences for masterclasses currently range from 50 to 500 people per 45-minute interactive session with multinational audiences reaching over 45 countries resulting in immediate rises in sales.

We’ve learned from our experience with omnichannel retail that virtual selling is a great way to communicate efficiently while increasing engagement. Through these sales tactics, we’re able to boost consumer involvement in multiple formats and target new and existing customers throughout different stages of their shopping journey. We’re sure that virtual retail spaces are going to continue to grow in popularity quickly over the coming years. 

3. How does virtual selling work?

Historically online selling has always been difficult for high-ticket items; customers want to get an understanding of a product before they commit to purchasing. So we’ve created a new and different way to merge physical and virtual selling. We use unique tactics to provide customers with a personalized online experience. From demonstrations to masterclasses to answering questions, we provide comprehensive virtual demonstrations to ensure consumers know what they’re doing and are satisfied with their products. We enable customers to view, try and experience products from the comfort of their own homes by ensuring they receive the same expert insight that they expect in-store.

In Sage Studios we have dedicated experts available 12 hours a day in multiple languages to assist customers in making the right choice for them and enable a smooth onboarding.   

We onboard them through a virtual one-on-one to set up their machine or they can join a masterclass for a similar one to many experience. A £2,000 coffee machine can be difficult to set up and use if you’re not sure what you’re doing with programmable options and multiple features, but through our unboxing and onboarding tutorials, it can be stress-free. They are able to learn how to get the best possible outcome using their products and hone their skills with the help of a professional, walking them through a step-by-step process in their own home. They are even recommended new products they might enjoy and given the opportunity to learn about them. Our experiences are fully immersive and becoming increasingly popular when choosing to engage with customers. 

Virtual selling studios

4. What are the benefits of virtual selling for retailers and their customers?

There are so many benefits to virtual selling for both retailers and customers. Virtual selling is a more convenient way to sell products and can also be more informative than if you were shopping in-store. Being able to shop from the comfort of your own home can save time and money.

For retailers, the benefits revolve around creating a virtual experience that allows you to connect with more customers while also retaining current ones. Following your customers throughout their entire buying journey through increased touch-points helps create deeper brand love and advocacy, ultimately resulting in increased sales and return for the brand.  Through virtual selling, there are also opportunities for upselling, subscription services and attachment sales. Omnichannel retailing creates a seamless physical to online experience that stays consistent throughout, resulting in the consumer having a more pleasant experience. 

For customers, there is greater flexibility and accessibility for access to the brand which results in a smoother journey as they are helped along the way. Through Sage’s onboarding and unboxing services, which help you set up your coffee machine and learn its functions, there is less purchase regret. Learning how to use a product quickly and efficiently will provide an enhanced experience for customers. Sage has brand experts available at all times for one-on-one sessions for any help you may need whether online or in-store to ensure customers are satisfied with their purchase. Our virtual selling offers customers a chance to become part of a community and to feel cherished by their chosen brand.  

Although customers aren’t able to test out products for themselves we offer online demos, masterclasses and more on our products. Through live streams, instant messaging, video calls, augmented reality and virtual tours we can connect with our shoppers and inspire them to try new products. Our multi-channel approach allows more flexibility and luxury of choices allowing convenient shopping that is gratifying for all. 

5. What’s the reception been like to the new virtual retail space?

We have been met with overwhelming positivity from customers and retailers alike.  The versatility of a space to sell, launch new products, train partners, create compelling content and all forms of virtual experience is still almost exclusively ours.

Our Experts are rated on each interaction and we have an incredible five out of five-star rating to date. Within 3 months our sales conversion has exceeded industry benchmarks for online retail.

We have welcomed retail partners from across the globe to inspire an omnichannel strategy in all markets on behalf of Sage/Breville.

6. Why should traditionally brick-and-mortar brands consider omnichannel?

Technology is becoming a big part of everyday life with the ability to constantly be updated and in touch every second of every day. Consumers are used to having every need fulfilled with just a few taps. For the retail industry, this creates a significant and rapid expansion of digital contributions. Using technology to keep up with society’s need for instant gratification can determine how successful a business is. 

As time moves on and technology grows ever-present physical stores are becoming less popular. Chains are elevating their stores to a more omnichannel experience resulting in the need for fewer stores. Brick-and-mortar brands are evolving to a focus on a digital experience and we are at the frontline paving the way. 

A true omnichannel experience is the merging of physical and virtual worlds to create a unified experience for the consumer. Following the complete customer journey is an opportunity to engage, excite and delight every step of the way. By being present in all mediums we are ensuring that customers have better access to the brand and feel well cared for. Having the option to engage with a company in a manner they are most comfortable with creates a more pleasant experience. Omnichannel retail is about delivering the best experience possible in every channel all at once. 

7. What would be your top tips for brick-and-mortar retailers looking to introduce omnichannel or virtual selling?

Start small

Our first tip for introducing omnichannel selling is to start small. Although it may be tempting to go all-in at the beginning it’s best to work your way up. Don’t worry about taking these steps slowly, the important part is learning as you grow. It’s important to build up buying power and expertise of commitment and evolve over time.

Learn from challenges

With every new venture, you will endure challenges this isn’t always a bad thing though. Being prepared to fail is important but also be prepared to learn from these experiences. Brands should focus on understanding what went wrong throughout their journey by tracking the data and making fast changes to deliver a better experience over time. This will result in better omnichannel selling in the long run.

Invest in good people

Investing in good people is important to a successful business. The quality of your brand ambassadors will greatly affect your business as they are the ones who will be interacting with your customers. Our brand ambassadors are what helps us thrive. They are the lynchpin to omnichannel so ensure you hire the best people and train them well. If you treat your employees well you’ll have better customer interactions. 

Don’t be afraid of third parties

Running a business entirely in-house can be a struggle. Don’t be afraid to use third parties to create a better experience for your consumers. Agency, staffing and operations are some examples of places in the company that can be run by third parties. 

8. What other advice would you give for retail brands to create the ultimate customer experience?

The three main points for creating the ultimate customer experience are creating an omnichannel experience, using technology and following trends. Embracing an omnichannel experience will make it easier for your customers to have a smoother journey every step of the way. Technology is the future and becoming a big part of retail, embracing this can lead to better business practices. Utilising technology to provide alternative ways to shop and receive help can allow customers to feel cared for and bring them back. Whether it be building an app, updating your customer service or making your online store easier to use it will benefit your business. Following trends is a great way to stay relevant in the fast-paced world of retail. Stay on top of what is popular at the moment and find ways to incorporate it into your brand. 

9. What is next for Sage Appliances and how can our readers stay up to date?

We are building our community and offering more access to experts to help you to purchase, improve your experience with the products, and ultimately hone your skills.  Our focus is on adding value to people’s everyday lives and Sage Appliances are at the forefront of this by investing in every area of the customers’ buying and usage journey.  

If your readers are in a store or online researching small kitchen appliances, then they will ultimately come into contact with Sage. Our Brick and Mortar experiences are evolving to become more personal and interactive, enabled by both technology and expertise. Sage Studios’ offerings will continue to grow with integrations from Tik Tok, Live content, On-demand and an opportunity to engage 24/7 with the right content from Sage.

The key to the success of brands like Sage is to ensure that no matter where a customer interacts they receive the same high-quality engagement.  Consistency is everything and Sage are leading the way.