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Virtual reality - creative ways businesses are using technology to reach their customers

03 Jun 2020 04:00

In 2020, global events have seen many things in the world turned upside down. As we pull together to try and make sense of the new normal, here we explore how businesses are getting creative with their business models, switching up their services and delivering a little normality – and joy – to customers across the UK.

As many businesses across the UK temporarily closed in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw consumer spending decline by 36.5 per cent in April, according to the latest spend data from Barclaycard. However, there are some areas that continue to see growth – specialist food and drink stores, which includes off-licences, greengrocers, independent stores, butchers and bakeries saw a strong month in April at 37.7 per cent growth, as people continued to support local businesses.

The move to online

Many bricks-and-mortar businesses are now finding ways to better serve customers online. As overall home improvement and DIY declined by 42.7 per cent in April, according to Barclaycard spend data, online spend in the sector grew by 26.5 per cent, as people took advantage of more time at home to do work around the house. Backyards, balconies and patios have been getting some TLC as the warmer weather has seen people wanting to enjoy their outdoor spaces as best they can. Garden centres and local nurseries are now open again, but initially many launched online for the first time, supplying bulbs, seeds and plants to the front doors of their green-fingered customers, with some also offering a click-and-collect service at a safe distance. Home and garden-sector businesses are also using live social platforms to keep customers informed and entertained, with a range of educational content designed to help them approach projects around the home in a safe – yet creative way.

For those brands already up and running online, the new normal demands a sleeker operation and strong mobile functionality to deal with increased traffic and orders. For smaller independent businesses, however, this transition represents more than just a minor pivot. A growing number of bricks-and-mortar stores including cafes, bookshops and party shops have now made their products and services available via the web for the very first time, to stay open and serve the communities that support them. Online spend for eating and drinking – which includes takeaways – also saw growth of 24.6 per cent in April as diners treated themselves, while also helping to support local restaurants.

A new virtual reality

Many beauty therapists and hairdressers are also going live on social to deliver mini tutorials and answer customers’ questions. To keep things ticking over, new trends include selling raffle tickets to win future treatments and hand-delivering bespoke product selections to customers’ doors, even if it’s just solution to remove those last nail and eyelash extensions.

Lockdown has prompted retailers, sports and leisure services, and other sectors to think outside the box. From PT sessions to Voga (yoga inspired by 80s dance and ballroom culture), with gyms closed, plenty of studios and independent fitness instructors have found the perfect forum to keep fitness lovers fit, running online classes via platforms like Zoom.

Let me entertain you

Impacted by social distancing and Government closure measures, the arts and culture industry has also taken to recreating experiences online. Performing arts venue Sadler's Wells, of which Barclays is the Principal Supporting Partner, has developed a programme of full-length dance performances and workshops, to keep fans entertained and connected through dance, wherever you are in the world and while their live stages remain closed.

As part of its focus on offering customers access to the best in entertainment, Barclaycard has announced a new three-year partnership with Global, the Media and Entertainment group. With a full programme of virtual events, the partnership features Capital’s Summertime Ball and Jingle Bell Ball, broadcast on Sky One, YouTube, Capital and Global Player. With people currently spending more time at home, Barclaycard and Global will be running new digital content delivering entertainment straight to the sofas of music fans across the UK.

Current circumstances are making many businesses look again at how they can continue to operate under the new normal. The move to online and being more creative through digital channels are some of the ways businesses are using technology solutions to connect with their customers.