As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. We saw that play out when lockdowns caused by COVID-19 drove an upsurge in digital innovations by retailers.

Shoppers who were used to browsing for products in stores suddenly lost the option to do so, while brands could no longer engage with customers offline.

This increased the importance of ecommerce revenue relative to offline sales but also forced retailers to find new ways to strengthen relationships through remaining channels.

Developments initially mapped to necessities for business continuity but we have since seen new digital functionality delivering successes for retailers across sectors.

Here are 5 of the most exciting areas of digital innovations by retailers that we tracked:

1. Video Consultations

Beauty and luxury brands extended chat functionality to continue one-to-one service while offline stores were closed.

Credo Beauty used the Hero platform to develop ‘CredoLive’, linking consultants to website visitors. They found visitors 15x more likely to purchase after using video chat. Gucci, meanwhile, turned its Italian service center into a studio to support individual customers with high-quality video.

2. Continual, 1-to-1 Communication

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Burberry used Apple Business Chat and proprietary systems to allow brand ambassadors to text customers while a CRM attributed sales to the relevant person.

Since lockdowns, efforts to deliver ongoing 1-to-1 engagement service have been accelerated by several retailers. Neiman Marcus fast-tracked its ‘NM Connect’ platform from an MVP for a few store employees to sell $60m of merchandise since March.

3. Livestreamed Events

From digital fashion shows to exercise classes to at-home spa treatments to sales events for collection ‘drops’, livestreaming has allowed brands to engage consumers while showcasing products.

Although livestreaming isn’t new in itself, the maturity of its usage is.

Moda Operandi recently promoted a collection via its first livestream using a platform called Bambuser after a successful trial selling via Zoom. The livestream floats as users browse the site, letting shoppers easily click between the video, live chat and promoted products.

4. Virtual Try-On

Leading beauty brands had been doing this for color cosmetics before lockdown, but since fitting rooms are likely to remain closed for some time, fashion brands have been forced to accelerate efforts. Various SaaS platforms give retailers options to deliver this, with Zeekit used by Tommy Hilfiger, Walmart and ASOS.

Brands like Michael Kors have also used Snapchat and Facebook AR ads to show products on customers through mobile devices.

5. Online-to-Offline Functionality

We have seen adoption of curbside pickup and returns increase across sectors, as has usage of live-inventory checkers, as retailers sought to assure on fulfilment.

Ubiquitous booking technology for restaurants was adopted across various sectors, from small grocers like Peter’s Weston Market using OpenTable to offer shoppers safe in-store slots, to Karl Lagerfeld promoting private shopping through social media.

Beyond, innovators are using shoppable emails and social commerce, testing new ad formats, launching games and seeking totally new channels for marketing. As the bar rises, marketers must keep pace or risk being left behind.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 
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