A Main Street store recently demonstrated the potential of virtual shopping by holding a special online event that was live. It was co-hosted by Brandbass, which provided the technology and sent an "ambassador" to interact with viewers and even model the clothes.
"COVID-19 has changed the way we shop, which is why alternatives to in-person browsing need to become available to brands and shoppers around the world," Brandbass spokeswoman Cassie Moorhead said.
Michelle Maldonado, owner of Girlfriends Boutique, held the 30-minute happening Sept. 14, and she said it resulted in a dramatic uptick in sales during the next 24 hours.
Maldonado and her sister bought Girlfriends Boutique six years ago but she took it over completely when her sister left Pleasanton to move to Idaho.
"We have a great customer following," Maldonado said. "We have fashionable clothes but try to keep it at a good price point. I am 50 but we cater to those younger -- and we have a customer base in their 70s."
She purposely does not create a website or normally sell online.
"There are reasons I purchased the store, and it was not to go online and see how much I could sell, sell, sell," Maldonado said. "I'm from high-tech, and I am trying to wind down being in high-tech. I bought it for fashion, and to talk to customers."
"We were doing really well -- then got hit with shutting down," she added.
When sheltering-in-place began in March, Maldonado began to do some selling on Instagram.
"Instagram worked OK," she said. "I did it daily trying to flush out my inventory. I would take pictures of, like, 15 items and say they are all $20."
Instagram also has a feature to talk to followers, but Maldonado said she wasn't comfortable doing that.
"So when Brandbass came to me, I was intrigued with its model," she said.
Brandbass sent ambassador Gheed Saeed, a Bay Area fashion influencer, to Girlfriends Boutique for its shopping event. She was on camera presenting deals and discounts, trying on clothes and pointing out details.
Maldonado said the event resulted in more than 50 sales, but she noted that her main goal was to reach new customers.
"That night I offered 20% off if they came in and said they'd attended the online event," she said. "To me, that was more important. If I get them to my store, I know I have captured a customer for life."
Girlfriends Boutique, located at 549 Main St., reopened along with the other downtown shops recently, which was important since the store thrives on foot traffic, Maldonado said. A table outside holds hand sanitizer and everyone wears a mask.
"The sales have been better than I thought," she said. "People are tired of being home. And they want to see clothes."
Girlfriends Boutique was voted Best Clothing Store in last year's Readers' Choice competition held by the Pleasanton Weekly, with fans touting the unique clothes, the variety of merchandise and the staffers' advice.
Maldonado said eight other women also work at the boutique, one day each, which results in a lot of personal service.
"I have the most amazing staff," she said.
Maldonado also hosts parties, closing the boutique to allow a small group of friends to have the shop to themselves, sometimes for community fundraisers. If people are reluctant to shop with others right now, she said she will close the store for private shopping.
"I want it to become a sanctuary place for folks to come and have fun," she said.
Brandbass spokeswoman Moorhead said she believes live virtual shopping is the future.
"Regular online shopping can seem flat and uninteresting," she said. "Live virtual shopping, however, is fun, engaging and personalized."