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CVS Video Clinics Will Change Shopper Expectations: How Retail Could Follow Its Lead

Remember when retail therapy just meant a shopping trip?

Photographer: Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg News

Now a visit to CVS Health can mean literal therapy, and it could cause many other retailers to self-examine their operations. CVS recently launched an app-enabled online physician service, called MinuteClinic Video Visits, through which patients with minor illnesses, injuries and other wellness needs can consult a doctor online, at any hour.

The added service itself isn’t a total stunner — CVS has been on a steady trajectory to transform from a retailer into a wellness brand. But still, it alters shopper expectations of what a standard retailer is to deliver. Will simply selling merchandise be enough? Nordstrom has its “Local” concept, where shoppers hang out and visit style consultants, but not shop, and Casper Mattresses operates its “Dreamery,” where sleepy consumers can nap on, but don’t have to buy, one of its products.

Now CVS is extending into nonretail services with a merchandise-free service app that aligns snugly with its wellness goals. These creative concepts could encourage other brands to do the same. Following are six ways retailers can extend their experiences virtually and reinforce their relevance among key shoppers.

Make up the difference. Cosmetic and skin care chains such as Sephora and Ulta, and for that matter major brands like Kiehl’s and L’Oréal, could offer one-to-one skin and makeup consultations with their on-staff specialists. These services can be fee-based or redeemed through earned loyalty program reward points. Artificial intelligence can even replace a consultant in some cases. In Tokyo, the skincare brand SK-II operates a high-tech store with smart mirrors that scan, analyze and remember individual shoppers’ faces and skin. Similar technology can be applied to facial recognition apps.

Get cooking. Many major supermarket chains employ dietitians who provide online recipes and nutritional guidance online through shopper Q&As. Kroger dietitians provide nutrition counseling through its Little Clinics, for example. This can be extended virtually. Kroger‘s Culinary Innovation Center streams video education sessions to Kroger employees. It could take this a step further and offer classes that combine cooking with nutrition on a monthly or weekly basis (complete recipe ingredients can even be prepackaged for sale at a designated place in the store).

Work it out. Peloton Bikes masterfully blends the in-store and online experience by enabling those who own its expensive stationary bikes to join in on live workouts in New York. Lululemon, Dick’s Sporting and Bass Pro Shops can offer similar curated classes for specific shopper segments, from fly fishing to camp-making to abs of steel. For shoppers willing to pay, tailored workout sessions or sports tutorials can be streamed with personal trainers.

Go vogue. The startup Allume was founded on the concept that everyone could, at times, use a personal shopper. Its personal shoppers correspond via text messaging with customers who fill out a style quiz. The shopper then scours the internet for clothing looks that suit the customer and send her a “LookBook” with suggestions. Retailers with membership reward programs can offer similar consultations and have the benefit of past purchase history to inform their suggestions for new outfits or complementary items. The same concept would work for shoe stores, such as DSW, which can suggest the best shoes for an outfit submitted via text photo.

Be well. Health and wellness merchants also can take a page directly from CVS Health’s playbook and offer services that extend from their store offerings. The Vitamin Shoppe offers in-store consultations, and GNC has a live chat function with “health enthusiasts.” They too could extend their services to connect their customers to nutritionists or licensed physicians, like CVS.

3 Ways to Know if It Makes Sense

In each of these cases, the virtual service works by following three principles. Shoppers are more likely to trust retailers that do the following:

The retail offers a service that aligns comfortably with its niche. Most products we purchase come with an assignment. Food needs to be cooked, electronics need to be installed or set up; cosmetics need to be well applied. A retailer can think about what happens to its products after they leave the store (or website), and how its expertise can improve that experience.

Does the shopper data indicate desire? Retailers with reward programs can reach out to select customers, based on shopping patterns and frequency of visits, to gauge what services they’d welcome from the brand. There are nuances here — a surprising number of customers may want to know how to store a cake as well as how to bake one. Cosmetic customers may be more interested in knowing their ideal color palettes than how to apply them on the eyelids.

Can you acquire it (versus expand organically)? Kroger built a culinary school, but not all merchants have the budget or infrastructure to build an ancillary service from the talent up. Partnerships, especially with respected names, can add legitimacy to a virtual services effort. (Think: Work out like a rock star with Jeanette Jenkins.) Companies also can acquire the talent — there are a lot of great startups.

There are many ways to keep the retail experience healthy by extending the shopping trip into other branded encounters, virtual and real. CVS’s MinuteClinic Video Visits is just getting hearts racing.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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