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Why Video Could Kill the Brick-and-Mortar Star (If You Don’t Use It)

Connecting with clients in a pandemic environment requires facility with video conferencing.

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I’VE BEEN READING to my grandchildren through video conferencing. No, it didn’t start with the coronavirus. My business requires me to travel internationally much of the time (or at least it did), and video has always been a way for me to stay connected with the kids. Here is something I learned: One can maintain emotional proximity using digital devices.

I keep hearing retailers say, “You can’t build relationships over the internet. The internet will never replace the in-person experience at retail.” It’s true that the in-person experience offers benefits that online cannot. But I fear that clinging to this old saw will prevent retailers from recovery. As we head into what is likely to be an extended period of social distancing and possibly rolling quarantines, retail owners who are depending on foot traffic to pay the bills are likely to be disappointed.

The time to invest in online skills for not only selling, but also service and relationship-building, is now.

There are many things you can do to build emotional proximity from a distance. Today, let’s talk about your video conferencing strategy.

It’s not sufficient to simply have video conferencing available as a tool. You must proactively incorporate video conversations into your regular communications with customers. If it’s not easy — if someone has to wait for you to send them a link, and you have to log into the system and remember how to find your link before you can send it — the moment will disappear.

Get comfortable with your video system. Practice launching and joining calls with your team until you can initiate a video call as easily as you start or answer a phone call. Keep the link handy, and any time you are speaking with a customer, offer to do a video call “right now.” Push the link from your mobile device to them using an SMS message, and transition instantly from a voice call to a face call.

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Be sure to contract with a video conferencing system that offers an Always On feature. I use a system that is open on my computer all day and can be monitored from my smartphone when I’m away. If someone wants a quick video chat, they knock on the virtual room, and I answer. Unless you’re already a by-appointment-only retailer, your customers expect to be able to shop whenever the urge hits them. An always on video conferencing feature makes that possible.

Consumers have been moving most of their shopping and browsing behavior online for several years now. Even before the coronavirus, a large number of consumers only entered stores to conclude the sale. You can expect that behavior to accelerate, as consumers look to reduce the amount of time exposed to others. Your website must be robust enough to support that shopping behavior. But that’s not the only way to engage a distance shopper. Using your video conferencing system, you can also share your screen, share images of jewelry you have in stock, or co-browse the internet to look at options from your favored suppliers. Even better, attach a second camera to your setup to share live jewelry while you chat with your customer.

In-person retail is undoubtedly superior to online as a means of connecting with your customers. But as consumers weigh the trade-offs between exposure and shopping, many of them will opt for digital connections. Make sure you’re ready to support them, and keep your retail relationships growing.

Andrea Hill is owner of Hill Management Group, with three brands serving the jewelry industry. Learn more at hill-management.com.

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