As coronavirus has continued to spread across the United States, virtual markets have become pervasive where in-person markets have had limited in-person access, if at all. Even at October’s High Point Market, educational platforms were conducted online, and exhibitors shared new product introductions via eponymous virtual markets for those customers who couldn’t attend in person.
Market centers and others are jumping on the virtual train to continue a practice that keeps manufacturers at retailer and designer fingertips 24/7, and these technologies have been well-received. According to statistics, many of the digital technologies that have been adopted by consumers during the coronavirus pandemic are likely here to stay.
One such recently launched program this season is literally called Virtual Market Center (VMC). Starting with the home furnishings industry, the VMC virtual marketplace combines virtual showroom technology with powerful sales tools designed to facilitate and streamline the buying process, whether in support of physical markets or in place of them. The current intended focus for the new platform includes furnishings and materials related to residential and commercial design, building finishes, kitchens and baths, and lighting.
Virtual Market Center’s digital platform offers manufacturer brands and their customers 24-hour access to immersive 3-D showroom tours with advanced features designed to enhance the showroom experience for buyers and connect them with sales representatives in real time. At presstime, the platform already had 40 exhibitors signed up and ready to extend their showrooms virtually, with more planned in the coming months.
“VMC is designed to give brands access and use of their showroom year-round, and maximize their ROI in this new market reality,” says Virtual Market Center Founder and Managing Director Jack Kashani. “It’s also designed to give retailers and designers a convenient and engaging way to shop for new products and get content to help them sell to their customers.”
For exhibiting brands, VMC is designed to produce turnkey high-definition 3-D virtual tours or use an existing tour, then add features to enhance the showroom experience and exhibitor business center. The VMC platform provides brands with powerful capabilities such as controlling showroom access, customizing virtual tours, managing product lists and SKUs, and collecting analytics on showroom visits and product engagement to better inform their sales and marketing decisions. For participating vendors, the business center allows them to upload their customer base as well, giving the buyers that typically shop with them instant access to showrooms.
What’s In It for Buyers
Company officials say VMC goes well beyond the virtual tours or online catalogs that are currently on the market because the platform offers a suite of customizable tools and features. Showroom visitors can access virtual tours from anywhere and be immediately matched with the appropriate sales rep, engage via live chat or video conference, curate products and generate purchase orders. Additional retail buyers and designers can join VMC at no cost and request access to showrooms.
The robust platform also offers visitors and buyers the opportunity to set up a business center once they create an account. It contains search history, likes and purchase orders, and is designed to make it easy to return to exhibitors where they would likely have recurring orders.
Training is underway for both exhibitors and visitors in “bite-size chunks,” say company officials, with videos and modules designed to help them navigate the platform, it’s capabilities and the benefits it can provide.
“When we began developing the VMC platform a year ago with the idea of helping manufacturers maximize their physical showrooms and reach more customers, we had no idea that we’d be launching at a time that this powerful platform and sales tool would be an absolute necessity. The market and showroom visit experience are possible from the comfort and safety of an individual’s office or home,” says Kashani.
For more information or to sign up for Virtual Market Center, go to virtualmarketcenter.com