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Blog Series
10/01/2021

Bridging the divide between virtual and ‘real-life’ retailing

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Albertsons and Pinterest’s shoppable recipe initiative is an attempt to offer the best of virtual and physical retailing. Source: Pinterest

Retailers are becoming increasingly creative in their efforts to combine the best aspects of digital commerce and brick-and-mortar shopping.

E-commerce offers customers a lot of advantages over physical stores, but there are also aspects of the brick-and-mortar shopping environment that digital commerce cannot match. Increasingly, retailers are trying to design omnichannel experiences that seamlessly blend customer touchpoints. Following are three recent examples.

Shoppable recipes
While most grocery shoppers have a set of staples they replenish every week, the typical supermarket list also includes items varying by what meals the consumer will prepare. Shopping by recipe is a brick-and-mortar customer activity that does not always smoothly translate to e-commerce.

In response, a number of grocery retailers are offering customers digital shoppable recipe tools. For example, Albertsons Cos. is entering a new multi-year agreement with Pinterest that includes a meal-planning API, designed to make recipes seamlessly shoppable by integrating saved Pinterest pins straight into the Albertsons banner app.

Shoppers will be able to add all of the ingredients to their cart in one click, and the Pinterest integration will also recommend recipes based on searches, saves, and purchase history. 

Welcome home (virtually)
Brick-and-mortar stores often feature carefully designed displays for products in categories such as home décor, furniture, and seasonal decorations that duplicate a home environment. These displays help customers visualize how items would look in their own home, and can help boost sales.

It is typically much more difficult to create a realistic home-type shopping atmosphere on a website. However, thanks to advances in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, interactive digital home displays are popping up on the e-commerce landscape.

Online marketplace Etsy just debuted The Etsy House, an interactive AR environment that allows customers to “walk through” a digital home filled with curated Etsy items. Featuring photorealistic and true-to-scale renderings, seamless navigation, and 360-degree visuals, The Etsy House serves as a virtual home filled with holiday decor and gifts. When customers hover over select digital items, a pop-up will provide more information on the product and a link to purchase it.

Digitalizing the real world
In addition to making their online shopping experiences more like the “real world,” some retailers bring the convenience and instant purchase capability of digital commerce to their physical environment. Coinciding with the recent New York Fashion Week, Crocs and J.D. Sports partnered with flex payment platform Afterpay to transform its “Dropshop” digital limited-edition drop program into an omnichannel shopping experience.

Afterpay released two limited-edition drops in New York City’s Times Square featuring physical and digital items from Crocs and J.D. Sports. In addition, Afterpay and Snap took iconic New York objects and illuminated them, such as a taxi, a fire hydrant and a food truck.

Each object had a Snapchat snapcode that unlocked an immersive AR 3D map in Snapchat revealing a Dropshop omnichannel commerce location. From within the immersive Dropshop environment, customers could activate the Snapchat AR try-on-experiences and tap to buy directly from their mobile phone.

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