Less Contact – The New World of Virtual Retail Consultations

by | May 1, 2020

One of our recent stories covered technologies that reduce the need for contact between shoppers and store employees while instore. This story is about new ways manufacturers and retailers are exploring to allow shoppers to avoid stores and salespeople entirely.

You’ve all found yourselves doing things online that you used to do face-to-face. Zoom work meetings. Video calls with doctors. On-line classes. Even virtual happy hours. While most of these aren’t new (except maybe the happy hours), they’re all getting a huge boost right now. In fact, we’re all caught up in a bunch of massive experiments on how to do all kinds of things virtually.

Since a lot of people aren’t keen on going in stores right now, a lot of these experiments are happening at retail (like online liquor ordering and delivery). And for retailers or manufacturers who sell higher-consideration items like TVs, flooring and computers, some of these experiments involve an on-line sales consultation to give people the information and confidence they need to buy a high-ticket item without seeing it instore.

Best Buy is a perfect example. You can now go online set up a video conference with an expert – choose what you need – and have it delivered and set up by a crew who promises to follow social distancing requirements. And surprise! Best Buy is pushing this hardest for Home Theater and Home Office Equipment (you can see their process at the bottom of this page).

Not Your Ordinary Zoom Call
But some manufacturers like roofing manufacturer GAF are going beyond just an online call with an expert and adding a whole new layer of tools and technology to support the virtual sales process. To understand first consider the pre-COVID-19 process for buying a roof. Some people might go to a store that sells roofing materials like The Home Depot. But most start by calling a local roofing contractor. He or she comes over with a bunch of roofing samples and brochures and reviews them with you. You pick a roof. The contractor measures your house to determine the amount of roofing and accessories you will need and gives you an estimate. Once you approve it a crew comes over to install them.

This might appear too risky for some people now.

In 2019 GAF started experimenting with a new, digitally enhanced approach that includes a virtual meeting between contractors and homeowners. At that time GAF’s goal was to give roofing contractors new tools to make selling their products easier, and improve the professionalism of their interaction with the homeowner. Now in Corona-world, this same suite of tools becomes a way to minimize contact with people and materials from the beginning to the end of process. Here’s a brief review of the suite of tools GAF offers contractors – many of which would be challenging or impossible for contractors to offer on their own:

  • Aerial photography services that can measure any roof with 93% accuracy
  • GAF’s e360 app which can create a fully measured, customizable 3D model of a home with as few as 8 digital photos (see photo)

    A Fully Measured, 3D Home Model from GAF’s e360 App

  • A visualizer tool that lets customers see what any given roof will look like on their home – as well as different windows and siding
  • Online sample ordering – critical since most homeowners won’t buy until they see and feel an actual sample
  • Video conferencing tools and advice on how to run effective presentations for homeowners
  • A library of digital sales collateral contractors can share online
  • Virtual training webinars and videos offering product and installation information to contractors and their crews
  • Financing services that let homeowners pre-apply for financing before the job starts – to help encourage them to move forward in an uncertain world
  • Electronic payment links so homeowners can pay contractors securely online

And of course, all of this offers GAF a world of market, sales and contractor data that was previously unavailable.

What does the future hold? We’d love to know too, but we fully expect to see more manufacturers and retailers dipping into the world of virtual sales consultations. Imagine what a digitally enhanced virtual consultation might look like for clothing, window treatments or a home gym. And we see the “stickiest” of these ideas staying with us long after the threat from COVID-19 is minimized or gone. But we also see a willing, even enthusiastic return of shoppers to brick and mortar once they feel safe again.

A summary of Best Buy’s virtual sales consultation process is shown below.

Best Buy’s Virtual Sales Consultation Processt