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Brick and mortar retailers should be online, but for the right reasons!

Even though online commerce or ecommerce has been getting all the attention in recent years 90% of all retail transactions are still local, in brick and mortar store across every town and every country. That said, key for local retailers is that ecommerce is growing 15% year over year vs. general retail's 3% increase. How will the rates and trends continue into the future is a matter of debate depending on whom you talk to but everyone agrees retail as an industry is changing.And of course everybody knows by now that online retailers are also moving offline, including Amazon.People like to shop from local businesses for multiple reasons while taking advantage of the convenience of online shopping when needed. This is more of a factor with Considered purchases - products which take more time to since and purchase and shoppers with higher incomes where traveling to the store will be a more costly proposition.For local offline retailers establishing an online presence or even selling online is becoming more urgent every day. However, without proper planning and the right expectations going online might end up being more of a cost than a benefit.Here are some tips and questions to ask before taking the plunge to invest in your online adventure:A. Why are you going online? This is a fundamental question you need to ask yourself honestly: - Is foot traffic at your store down?- Are sales falling consistently over the past 12 months?- Is your offline advertising ROI is coming down?- Are there specific changes in your local environment?The point here is that these same causes will most likely carry over to an online presence if not addressed. For example, if your sales staff are not trained or rewarded for performance, your store is not clean, organized or products not updated the additional foot traffic will NOT help, in fact it will be a negative because people will tell their friend about negative experiences 13 times more than positive ones. If customers are not treated well or paid attention to, if you don't have proper training for your sales staff - these are all things that will be negatives on your store and will drive traffic away.B. When you have the WHY addressed, the next step is deciding how to move online: Options are:1. Start with an informative website which would be your central presence online:As you can see from the Local Population tool the majority (over 95%) of what is considered local population live outside a store's 1 mile radius, so you need to think of ways you can actually reach and serve your local population before thinking about going outside. the ways you can do this is to provide such enticing deals and value that your customers will take time out of their busy schedules to physically come to your store. This is a major challenge and one that is getting worse with time, not better.Or you can provide services to your local clients that eliminates the need for them to physically come to your store all the time, but still receive the personal service they love you for. Services like “salesperson assisted” remote sales which is available now, or augmented reality which will be available in the future will help in this case.Remember: designing and creating a website can be like building a house yourself and have a wide range from quick and simple to extensive and expensive. And, expensive does not always translate to better results for everyone.2. Setup an online commerce site, which expands your sales to people outside your immediate reach, but is an entirely new business really requiring time and investment not the least of which is proper merchandising and marketing for the online customer. C. What are your products? The products and services your sell will have a significant role in if and how you setup your online presence, and which tools to select in your technology mix (stack). If you are selling a niche product you have a better chance of reaching and building relationships online, but you need to have tools and services to engage customersif you're selling products that are physically large, such as furniture, specific artwork, automobiles or that include a service aspect such as interior design your strategy and plan will have to be created for those.Ultimately, regardless of the type of online presence there are some common tasks (and investments) you need to make. Many of the below services also fit under the “Retail CRM” or customer relationship management realm.1. Search engine marketing: consider the expenses of coming up on the first page of Google for your local market when people search online - not an easy or inexpensive undertaking but it is a must once you go online. As an option you can join local search companies such as Yelp but they are also not cheap and do take time to maintain.2. Social media marketing: you don’t have to (actually should not) be on every social network but you need to have presence on a couple of networks where your target demographic spends most time. You can optimize using social sharing tools but consider the fact that people are smart and will know if your twitter feed is full of automated posts from your Facebook page. Consumers appreciate and reward original, honest engagement so focus on doing well in a couple of spots. (Facebook, Pinterest, Houzz, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat are some of the top options but you should look further to see where you customers hang out most)3. Customer service: you have to respond quickly to people emailing or messaging you regarded of the bad or good nature. No response, or defensive comments will actually hurt your reputation and be negatives. And your customer service needs to be provided by informed people, preferably your sale people or yourself, not someone who knows nothing about your products or business or local scene.4. Delivery: shoppers are expecting more and faster delivery options, even things such as Buy-Online-Pick-Up-in-store (BOPIS) or buy online return in store (BORIS) will help serve your clients better. 5. Email (and/or SMS) communications: whether for marketing or order management and other service notifications you need to have a well planned, and balanced approach to stay in touch with prospects and customers. Luckily there are a few well established players in this area. A solid email plan is usually a part of your retail CRM program.6. Omni-channel: In today’s retail and definitely in the future you want a system in place which will be seamless across any touch point your customers want to do business with you so try to find solutions which will provide the most comprehensive reach across touch points, and increasingly most important MOBILE. Try to avoid building a hodge-podge of different tools which will be difficult to manage and maintain in the long term, even if each looks great right now. Your technology pieces will be updated by the vendors regularly, which is good, but each change in one tool will require checking compatibility with others and might add additional expenses you are not planning for. And all this takes time, and of course time is money, not to mention the pain and hassle!7. How technical do I have to be? Pretty much all the tools and tactics require decisions and investment in some technology so you will have to have either some knowledge yourself on what would be the best technology stack for your store or need to have a trusted advisor helping you. Truth is that retail owners and managers already have their hands full with skills they need to have so expecting them to also be technically savvy is not reasonable. That said, you will be best positioned if you at least know the tools you'll be using from the consumer side And have some basic understanding on how things work in technology you are buying. Even with the best of intentions the vendors are communicating from the point of view of someone who has done the implementation many times as opposed to the customer who has never been thru this implementation. Focus, and ask question on the actual “Implementation” for your store, with existing technologies or even if all new.

How Lululemon is Utilizing Digital Innovation to Stay Ahead in Retail

Try Visional Today- Use this link to take a survey and earn $10 off your entire purchase! Who is Lululmon Athletica? Lululemon Athletica, is one of the leading retailers in athletic apparel with a very strong, loyal customer and fan base. The athletic apparel company was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 1998. Today, Lululemon is well known for setting the bar in technical athletic apparel inspired by promoting a healthy lifestyle. Recently, the company released its first ever global wellness index.    The number of stores continues to grow, even during the pandemic they were still opening stores in the US, Asia and Europe. In Q2 they managed to open 8 US locations, 7 stores in Asia, and 2 in Europe, and ended Q3 with a total of 515 stores worldwide. While all of their retailer stores were temporarily closed in Q1 of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lululemon still managed to thrive in 2020.  FaceTime with LululemonDuring Q2 of 2020, Lululemon introduced 4 new ways to shop following the shopping trends of shoppers during the pandemic. 1. Curbside pickup2. Virtual waitlist 3. Onmni educators - associates trained to assist shoppers in-store and virtually 4. Virtual concierge programs Their virtual concierge services are in the form of a live 1:1 video chat experience at no cost with a trained educator. This can be done via FaceTime, zoom or directly on the web. The experience is simple, easy to book and convenient for shoppers seeking advice from experts or Educators as they call them. Mid 2020, Lululemon decided to add new services to its roster to better engage with the shopping trends of consumers and according to their quarterly financial supplement information, this service significantly contributed to their fiscal success. What Does This Look Like? The Power of 1:1 Live Video ExperiencesIn Q3 2020, Lululemon was able to reach a total net revenue of $1.1B accordingly, this resulted in an overall revenue increase of 22% from the previous year, all in the midst of a national pandemic. Their net revenue increased 19% in North America and increased 45% internationally in Q3. Although the company reports do not break down revenues and performance of the specific digital services a reasonable correlation can be made between the addition of new ways to serve customers including virtual services and the performance of Lululemon. Customer Reviews Their website highlights some of the experiences with the live video chat- "I didn't know what to expect as I had not done this before, and this was my first such lululemon shopping experience. It was great, and Heidi was fantastic! I prefer online shopping to in-store, and this was a great way to get assistance while not leaving my home,"“This is my first time shopping with lululemon and I was nervous about the online experience, but Alexa was very knowledgeable about all the products. She made me feel comfortable with her recommendations.”The experienceOverall, trying out this service helped to understand how it works. As a customer looking to buy expensive leggings from Lululemon. In this section, I have outlined some pros and cons of the experience with the 30 minute chat with an educator - personal or gift shopping (FaceTime option). Shopping need: non-slip leggings The Pros 1. Super easy to book an appointment and many times available. 2. The FaceTime experience was pretty cool! You don’t have to leave the couch.  3. The Educators are very knowledgeable about the products, design and features. 4. Excellent customer service!!! The educator was very personable and asked relevant questions about sizing, color preferences and additional needs.   The Cons Unfortunately, there are always drawbacks in every situation. 1. You are matched with the first available Educator (pro and con).   2. The matches are not done based on, you may be matched with someone in a different country. 3. If the stores in the location of the Educator are closed, you will not get a live in store experience nor benefit from the in-store inventory. 4. Text messages with links to the site are sent directly to you to make your purchase, not a seamless process.  (though there is the option for the educator to purchase the items for you can just do it yourself). Lululemons 2020 Performance ReviewAccording to Lululemons investment reports, at the end of Q3 2020, they had a total of 515 stores worldwide. Their e-commerce comprised 42.8% of the total revenue compared to 26.9% in Q3 2019. The total gross square feet by the end of Q3 2020 was 1808 [Source]. Other Technologies- LuluLemon in your homeAdditionally, in Q2 the company spent $11.5M as a result of acquisition related expenses for the acquisition of Mirror. A mirror? Yes, a Mirror. Lululemon has further invested in progressive technologies. In September 2018 the mirror was launched and expected to generate 100M in sales in 2020. Let’s get into the details of the “Mirror,” the mirror incorporates a blend of AI/ML technologies to real-time optimizations based on your preferences and personal profile. You can pick your own music. Sync to The Mirror via Bluetooth to measure your heart rate. It’s algorithms track your results and build you a personalized program [source]. It is a high-tech mirror to stream live workout classes for you from your living room. Sounds pretty cool! The Mirror is priced at $1,500USD. Essentially, in 2020 this investment was a way to bolster revenue while also providing another avenue to market its products, CEO Calvin McDonald said in a call with investors. Mirror instructors, for instance, will wear Lululemon products [source].  it expects MIRROR to generate more than $150 million in revenue for the full year 2020. That figure is up from its initial expectation, which was revenue of $100 million [source]. Try Visional Today- Use this link to take a survey and earn $10 off your entire purchase!  

Jerome’s Furniture Warehouse Introduces a New Way to Shop For Furniture

In this series of "Making Live Shopping work in Retail" series we are looking at the actual user experience and functionality of tools in this space.  No marketing mumbo jumbo and hype, just the real deal - the experience.   * And we would love to have you test out our user experience and tell us the good, the bad and the ugly, it's free and we'll even give you a $10 Visional shopping coupon for trying and giving us feedback. Making Live Shopping Work in Retail - Jerome's Furniture, February 18, 2021  Jerome’s Furniture warehouse is a private, independent Southern California’s family owned discount furniture store founded in 1954. According to the D&B business directory, Jerome’s furniture has a total of 900 employees across all of its locations and generates $208.97 million in sales (USD).  Jerome’s furniture continues to find innovative ways to connect with their customers and to gain new ones. During the pandemic, they have launched two new features that helps customers to comfortably furnish their homes without leaving the couch. The first feature is in their mobile app. The mobile features AR technology providing customers with the ability to visualize their items in their home before purchasing.  Additionally, the second feature is another game changer for the furniture industry, staying ahead of the game, Jerome’s began incorporating live video shopping experiences in 2020.  Today, Jerome’s Furniture uses live video to connect and assist customers with their furniture purchasing needs. The service uses Facetime video with Jerome’s experts. The website states “Now it's safe and easy to meet in person—by video! Schedule a one-on-one visit with a real Jerome’s Expert in a real showroom. Sit back and relax with your phone, tablet, or computer, and watch while our expert personally walks you through a store, shows you furniture, and answers your questions.”  How does it work?  Step 1: Select location  Step 2: Provide personal information - name, phone number, optional message.  Step 3: Book your FaceTime call. Step 4: You will receive an automated text followed by a FaceTime call.  Customers Rave About the Experience:  One customer mentions: “Excellent Accommodation! Shannon made shopping from home extremely easy and fun. He was able to show us colors and sizes of furniture in a way that made us feel like we were there. Thank you for offering this option.” Another customer states: “Yuri was excellent in helping us get the mattress we needed and even went out of her way to help expedite shipping!”   FaceTime With Jerome’s Furniture  Advantage:  Being able to gauge the furniture sizing: The toughest part about shopping online for furniture is being able to approximate the “actual” size. Often times items look with much smaller or much larger than their actual size. With the live shopping experience you can get a better sense of the actual size of items.        Drawback: Time slots are not reserved: The FT call is based on the availability of the employees at specific stores. Although you can call and request a specific time, it is still based on the availability of the trained employees, but this is a drawback because the times of availability may not accommodate your schedule and your friend “Jerome’s” could call you while you’re at work.      With Visional, you are paired with a local shopping agent where a time slot is conveniently reserved just for you.    

Millennial shopping trends

The way people shop has been revolutionized by the explosive growth of the smartphone and tablets. Consumers use their mobile devices for researching products, finding the best deals and buying whatever they want or need. The number of smartphone users is projected by informed business forecasters to exceed 2 billion worldwide in 2016 and it’s expected to exceed 5 billion by 2019. Surveys indicate that a spike in the rate of smartphone e-commerce is being fueled by the buying power of people who are between 18 and 34 years old, and their shopping habits have influenced all retail vendors. The U.S. Census Bureau’s statistics show that e-commerce during the second quarter of 2016 was estimated to be $97.3 billion, which amounts to 8% of total retail sales at approximately $1,201.9 billion. According to Business Insider, a trend toward discount shopping that began during the financial recession in the early 1990’s has continued into the mobile shopping era. After shoppers realized they could easily find discounted products online, their buying habits changed. And Forbes Magazine reported that 191.1 million people in the United States do a significant amount of their shopping online and they spend approximately $703 billion in B2C (business to consumer) e-commerce volume. 80 million educated and career driven millennials represent 25% of the U.S. population and they command $200 billion in buying power every year. Because teenagers spend about 9 hours per day on social media websites and 67% of them own a smartphone, retailers have targeted them for advertising on these and other websites. 70% of millennials search for discounts online before they buy anything in a store, and 80% of all shoppers research prices online before they buy anything.

Visional Remote shopping

New video on how the Visional remote shopping experience works. This is a setting at one of our Beta clients which is a very nice furniture store in Orange County, CA.

We will be releasing more situational video in other retail applications at other customer sites. Feel free to contact us if you'd like to highlight your store or products in an upcoming video.


Visional was created from an obvious need for local brick and mortar retailers to compete with online only ecommerce competition. Our team has over 50 years of experience building technology products and businesses for a variety of vertical industries and specializing in retail.

Based in Southern CA and with presence in San Francisco and New York Visional is ready to handle any size project and ensure a seamless integration into your technology and sales operation.


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