More than 40 years ago, membership shopping was introduced to the public through Costco, which debuted in 1983 as a members-only warehouse retailer offering near-wholesale prices. Today, membership shopping isn't just about price cuts and bulk shopping; it's also about convenience and customization.
The modern age of more-personalized membership shopping was ushered in by the 2005 debut of Amazon Prime, which offers benefits such as free two-day shipping and special deals. In addition, Prime members have a more-personalized shopping experience that includes free access to videos, music and books, as well as daily music/video/book suggestions based on previous user purchases.
Membership Shopping: Customizing the Shopping Experience
Within the last decade, membership for both Amazon Prime and Costco has been steadily increasing. For Prime, the convenience of free two-day delivery is a major growth driver, as is Amazon's vast, competitively-priced inventory. Amazon's digital marketing model, which utilizes browsing/buying history to offer personalized suggestions, has also proven to be a winner.
While low warehouse pricing is a major factor in Costco's success, another online growth driver is Costco's partnership with delivery services like Google Shopping Express and Jet.com, which enables the company to enhance its distribution network. Another factor is the success of Costco's signature Kirkland brand, which offers a wide range of quality products at budget prices.
As membership shopping continues to rise in popularity, retailers are taking notice -- and also taking the concept to an entirely new level.
Virtual Reality: The Next Big Thing for Ecommerce
In February 2018, Walmart announced its acquisition of Spatialand, a rising new virtual reality startup. This partnering might seem like a journey into unchartered retail territory; but for savvy retailers, this marriage of virtual reality and ecommerce is a harbinger of the next big revolution in ecommerce shopping.
Thanks to virtual reality tools and customizable ecommerce platforms, consumers can already enjoy an online, click-of-the-mouse shopping experience that's entirely personalized to their individual tastes and lifestyle needs. In addition, retailers are wholeheartedly embracing ecommerce solutions such as augmented reality apps, which not only enable clothing retailers to provide the perfect fit, but also help shoppers choose the right furnishings, accessories, and color schemes for their homes.
Virtual Personal Shopping Memberships
Just three months after its acquisition of Spatialand, Walmart introduced a new membership shopping model in the form of a virtual personal shopper. Touted as a text-based shopping/concierge service for busy moms, the new company, Jetblack, is currently in beta testing mode and only available in New York City, but is scheduled to expand to other cities, depending on the success of its launch.
The Jetblack shopping experience begins with an initial 10-minute phone call in which members cite their shopping preferences -- but they also have the option of inviting Jetblack staff to visit their homes and scan the kitchen shelves for favorite products and brands. With this information, Jetblack creates a regular shopping list for each customer, and via text, offers three options for each item (more than three is considered overwhelming, akin to roaming the aisles of a big box store). Shoppers can also text questions and special requests (such as gift recommendations) to Jetblack, and can edit the shopping list whenever necessary. Items are delivered the same day (if ordered before 2 pm). Currently, membership costs $50 a month, and the company says that there are already thousands of people on a waitlist.
Thanks to ecommerce, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, membership shopping has come a long way from its bulk-shopping warehouse origins. For many of today's consumers, convenience is an even greater factor than cost. Likewise, a month's membership can now entitle you to a virtual reality personal shopper, complete with a time-saving shopping list that's tailored to your preferences and lifestyle needs. As virtual and augmented reality technology continues to develop, walking down the aisles for a day's shopping might soon become a thing of the past, relegated to a distant -- if not always fond -- memory.
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