Why Companies With Physical Locations Must Embrace Virtual Services: 9 Inspiring Brand Examples

In today‘s digital-first world, consumers increasingly prefer and expect to engage with businesses virtually. A staggering 90% of Americans now use the internet, with 81% owning smartphones. And their usage is intensifying – daily time spent on mobile devices has more than doubled since 2016, now exceeding 4 hours per day.

This rapid shift to digital has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced changes in consumer behaviors that are now solidifying into lasting preferences. 60% of consumer interactions now occur online, up from 42% pre-pandemic. Ecommerce sales skyrocketed 44% in 2020 alone.

For companies with physical locations, this trend presents an urgent call to action: embrace virtual services, or risk obsolescence. Brands that fail to offer digital, app-based options are already seeing their market share erode. 73% of customers say a good experience with one company raises their expectations of others. 32% will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.

The imperative is clear. But many traditional businesses struggle with how to effectively translate their offerings into virtual formats. Fortunately, pioneering brands across industries have illuminated the path through innovative virtual services. Let‘s dive into nine inspiring examples and the strategies behind their success.

1. Domino‘s Pizza: Transforming Ordering and Delivery

Domino‘s has become a case study in digital transformation. Their user-friendly app makes ordering pizza as easy as a few taps, with features like:

  • Customizing your pizza with a visual interface
  • Saving your favorite orders and payment info for one-click re-ordering
  • Real-time order tracking on an interactive map
  • Earning and redeeming rewards points
  • Exclusive mobile-only discounts and promotions

The results have been staggering. Digital orders now make up over 70% of Domino‘s sales, driving a 200% increase in stock price over the last 5 years. And the app experience is so seamless, many argue it now surpasses the in-store experience. Domino‘s success proves that with the right virtual offering, even the most physical product – a hot pizza – can become a digital powerhouse.

2. Sephora: Elevating the Virtual Shopping Experience

Cosmetics retailer Sephora has set a new standard for immersive virtual shopping with their app‘s innovative features:

  • Virtual try-on using augmented reality and facial recognition to realistically test products
  • Personalized recommendations based on your preferences and past purchases
  • Extensive product videos, tutorials, and reviews for confident decision-making
  • In-app booking for in-store services like makeovers
  • Scanning in-store items for instant product info and online ordering

These rich virtual services both replicate and enhance the in-store beauty shopping experience. The app‘s users are twice as likely to purchase and spend 15% more annually. By seamlessly blending physical and digital, Sephora creates an omnichannel experience greater than the sum of its parts.

3. Warby Parker: Perfecting Virtual Try-On for Eyewear

Buying prescription eyeglasses online once seemed unthinkable due to the individual fit required. Warby Parker overcame this hurdle with a multi-pronged virtual approach:

  • Advanced virtual try-on tech that realistically simulates frames on your face using phone camera
  • Sending customers multiple frames to physically try at home, free of charge
  • Prescription scanning app that extracts your current glasses‘ prescription through phone camera
  • 24/7 live chat with opticians to answer questions and provide expertise

These virtual services have propelled Warby Parker from online-only startup to multi-billion dollar public company with over 145 retail locations. Their success demonstrates how even the most touch-and-feel products can thrive online with sufficiently sophisticated virtual solutions.

4. Starbucks: Personalizing Mobile Ordering and Loyalty

Starbucks has virtually perfected the digital cafe experience through their hugely popular app:

  • Mobile order and pay to customize your drink and skip the line
  • Integrated rewards program with personalized challenges to earn free drinks
  • Spotify partnership to identify songs playing in-store and save to your library
  • Sending gifts and funds to friends through the app
  • Suggested selling based on past orders, weather, and more

Mobile orders now account for 24% of Starbucks transactions, with app users spending 3x as much as the average customer. The app creates a flywheel effect – the more customers use it, the more data Starbucks gathers to personalize and improve the experience, in turn driving even greater adoption and retention.

5. Walgreens: Virtualizing the Pharmacy Experience

Managing prescriptions, a task long requiring physical pharmacy visits, has been transformed by Walgreens‘ app:

  • Scanning to refill prescriptions instantly, or setting up automatic refills
  • Getting medication reminders and alerts when prescriptions are ready
  • Connecting with pharmacists 24/7 via secure chat to ask questions
  • Saving prescription info for easy sharing with other providers
  • Earning and redeeming rewards points on purchases

60% of Walgreens‘ digital users now engage with the app health features monthly. Besides creating convenience for customers, the app also improves medication adherence, leading to better patient outcomes. It‘s a powerful illustration of how virtualization can benefit business and customer alike.

6. Wayfair: Making Home Design Accessible to All

Furniture retailer Wayfair‘s app makes interior design easy and fun through innovative visualization tools:

  • "View in Room 3D" to virtually preview true-to-scale furniture in your space
  • Customizable room templates to experiment with different styles and layouts
  • Virtual consultations with Wayfair‘s interior design team
  • Idea boards to save, organize, and share your favorite products
  • Integrated augmented reality to design with your phone camera view

These immersive virtual features give customers the confidence to make significant furniture purchases online – Wayfair‘s average order value now exceeds $250. The app accounts for over 50% of traffic and 30% of sales, fueling Wayfair‘s explosive growth into a $9B industry leader.

7. Home Depot: Guiding DIY Projects from App to Home

Home improvement superstore Home Depot‘s app is a virtual companion for DIY projects large and small:

  • Image search to find products from a photo of your space
  • Augmented reality to preview flooring, paint colors, and more in your home
  • Step-by-step video guides for common home maintenance and repair tasks
  • Viewing and managing your in-store receipts and purchase history
  • Real-time inventory checking for your local store

55% of Home Depot‘s online sales now come through the app. Even more tellingly, 45% of online purchases are picked up in-store – clear evidence of the symbiotic relationship between the company‘s physical and digital presence.

8. Nike: Inspiring and Personalizing the Fitness Journey

Athletic apparel giant Nike has evolved from a shoe company to a digital fitness platform through offerings like:

  • Guided workouts and training plans from elite Nike trainers
  • Activity and biometric tracking through in-app phone sensors or connected wearables
  • Leaderboards and challenges to compete with friends or the global Nike community
  • Exclusive product launches and priority access to in-demand shoes
  • Personalized product recommendations based on your activity and preferences

Nike‘s suite of apps now has over 300 million users, many of whom view Nike as an irreplaceable part of their fitness lifestyle. By becoming a virtual fitness companion first and a product company second, Nike has achieved enviable loyalty and engagement.

9. Chipotle: Customizing and Gamifying Mobile Ordering

Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle‘s app turns ordering into an interactive experience:

  • Drag-and-drop visual interface to customize your burrito, bowl, or tacos
  • Saving your favorite orders for one-tap re-ordering
  • Earning and redeeming points for free food through the loyalty program
  • Competing in monthly "extra" challenges for bonus points and rewards
  • Exclusive app-only menu items and promotions

With 18.3 million app users, Chipotle now derives almost 50% of revenue from digital sales. Even more impressively, digital orders are 20% larger on average than in-store orders. The app‘s engaging, personalized experience drives both adoption and spend.

Putting It All Together: A Roadmap for Virtualizing Your Business

As these examples illustrate, almost any business can find creative ways to translate their physical offerings into appealing virtual services. To forge your own path, follow these steps:

  1. Understand your customers‘ needs, pain points, and digital preferences through research and dialogues.

  2. Identify the aspects of your in-person experience that can be replicated or improved virtually. Get creative – the possibilities are endless.

  3. Define clear goals and success metrics for your virtual offerings. What customer and business outcomes are you seeking?

  4. Develop your app or digital platform with a relentless focus on usability and engagement. Enlist experienced design and development partners.

  5. Integrate virtual and physical touchpoints to create a seamless omnichannel experience. Use each channel for its unique strengths.

  6. Promote your new virtual services to drive adoption. Offer incentives and demonstrate value.

  7. Measure results and gather feedback. Continuously enhance your offerings based on data and customer input.

With the right approach, going virtual isn‘t just a defensive necessity, but an offensive opportunity. You can reach new markets, deepen customer relationships, and build sustainable competitive advantages.

The virtual imperative has never been clearer. Ecommerce is projected to reach 24% of global retail by 2025. 80% of smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies with mobile sites or apps that help them easily answer their questions. 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.

For businesses with physical locations, an app isn‘t just a nice-to-have. Increasingly, it‘s the primary way customers will find, engage with, and purchase from your brand. Embrace the virtual revolution, and write your business‘ next chapter. The future belongs to those that meet customers where they are – and that‘s increasingly in the palm of their hand.