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Derrimon eyes virtual shopping experience

Published:Sunday | September 15, 2019 | 12:14 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

Distribution company Derrimon Trading is exploring a shopping experience that goes beyond customers clicking on grocery items from the comfort of their living rooms.

The company, which operates two grocery businesses, Sampars and Select, reported to shareholders this week that it is keeping tabs on virtual shopping initiatives in the global market with hopes of launching the shopping experience in Jamaica in the future.

Virtual shopping is an online experience, where a shopper’s avatar can see and interact with other digitally created shoppers and salespersons while they are shopping in the digital replica of a real-world brick-and-mortar store. The process is conducted through a virtual reality headset, and the goods are then delivered to the customer’s doorstep.

“Internationally, there are some programmes that will make you walk through the aisle virtually. They are experimenting with some of these, and we are watching the results to see how it works before we get involved in that, but that’s where it’s going,” Chairman and CEO of Derrimon Derrick Cotterell told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting last Wednesday.

“It’s something we are going to stay with. We are going to continue to be innovative, and, for sure, we are the first people to be in it, so we expect to get the benefit when it eventually kicks off,” he said.

On Friday, Cotterell said he was looking into several applications with international partners from Canada and Japan, but that the discussions were in the early phases.

Derrimon is the first local company known to be even considering online shopping by avatar.

“I don’t know of any organisation in Jamaica having this type of innovative digital shopping experience as yet. If Derrimon does it in the way that they’ve described, it will be a first, and it will be very interesting to see how the market responds,” said Christopher Reckord, CEO of managed information technology services company tTech Limited.

Derrimon already offers online shopping services and other ecommerce initiatives. Last year, the company launched its ‘Pack A Barrel’ promotion, which offered Jamaicans abroad the opportunity to fill barrel-sized containers with local items, which would be delivered to the doorstep of friends and family anywhere across the island.

Both its online shopping and ‘Pack A Barrel’ initiatives were created with the desire to expand Derrimon’s customer base and create an online presence for the company in Jamaica and the United States.

“The barrels did well in Christmas, but it has not been sustainable. We launched an advertising programme in New York. We’ve had some success, but the Jamaican diaspora is who we primarily depend on for that business, and they have not been as consistent as we want them to be,” Cotterell told shareholders.

Despite the setback, Cotterell still believes that there is much untapped potential in the online sales market and is looking to capture a larger market share with the ‘shop online for charity’ facility.

“That has been giving us some traffic. In Jamaica, we focus on the tertiary institutions because we expect the younger people to want to shop online, but the challenge with grocery shopping online globally is the amount of clicks,” he explained.

“It’s easy to buy clothing and shoes online because you’ll typically buy one to three items. Grocery shopping is anywhere from 15 to 50 items. People just don’t have the patience to sit and shop for groceries online,” he said.

Still, Cotterell reckons that the company could boost its online sales by enabling customers to explore its offerings in a virtual setting.

While the trend has not yet taken off in Jamaica, in the United States, the emergence of virtual shopping is being viewed as the solution to dramatic decline in brick-and-mortar retail spaces as more people shift towards online shopping.

Last year, Walmart introduced a 3D virtual shopping tour on its website to help customers browse and choose items for their homes while Amazon sought to increase sales with a “blended reality” system that could be used to create a virtual reality-enabled mirror that would allow customers to try on different virtual outfits in their own homes.