Brands are using virtual experiences in physical locations to provide shoppers with the benefit of an interactive in-person experience without needing to carry inventory.
These “invisible” or virtual storefronts – usually in the form of augmented reality content visible via smartphones – are being used to drive sales, collect data and boost branding efforts. At a time when physical retail is struggling, such mobile initiatives aren’t just eye-catching, they’re more convenient by providing curated products that can then be delivered on demand.
To date, we’ve seen brands doing everything from collaborating with artists and social media platforms to creating personalized assortments using such virtual setups. Shoppability is key. Here’s a highlight of some of the more recent success stories…
Early this summer, footwear brand Havaianas launched a virtual storefront focused on driving sales for one day only. Located on the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles, shoppers passing by a colorful mural discovered it was actually a virtual pop-up store. Snapping a photo of the designs they liked directed them to a shoppable microsite at StepIntoSummer.com, revealing a curated style guide with various tips on what to buy.
The concept was powered by Google’s Cloud Vision AI platform, which helped Havaianas pair merchandise with colors from the mural – a big step up from QR codes. The brand collaborated with street artist Buff Monster on the mural and featured fashion tips from stylist Tara Swennen.
To promote its first limited-edition clothing line for adults, Lego opened a pop-up shop with a twist in February: the store was entirely empty. Shoppers in London’s Soho neighbourhood arrived to find a Snapcode (a QR code for Snapchat) displayed on a pedestal. Scanning the code with their phones then surrounded them with a virtual storefront in AR.
Customers could choose between three different types of merchandise – sweatshirts, caps and t-shirts – and view them on a Lego character. The pieces then sold through an integrated “Shop Now” feature on Snapchat, which led shoppers through to a dedicated e-commerce page that displayed the products on a real-life model, enabling them to choose their size before completing purchase.
Macy’s partnered with Pinterest to display scannable Pincodes at vibrant gathering spots in the US, such as Central Park in New York and the Santa Monica Pier in LA. Scanning a code took shoppers to a Pinterest board curated with ideal summer looks for their location with links to the online store.
Unlike most immersive retail experiences that are fixed to a specific location, or indeed online only, this campaign was designed to inspire customers with virtual catalogs that meet them where they are.
Nike is another that has been experimenting with the idea of using specific virtual spaces to release new products. In 2018 it also used Snapchat, this time to release its Air Jordan III “Tinker” for those in attendance at the NBA All-Star after-party only.
Achieved via a partnership between Nike, Snap, Darkstore and Shopify, users could scan exclusive Snap codes to buy and receive the shoes by 10:30pm that same night. All of them sold out within 23 minutes.
Austin-based activewear brand Outdoor Voices launched an augmented reality app experience at SXSW in 2018 that encouraged fans to get outdoors to find particular virtual products in the middle of the park. Once discovered, users could explore them in 360-degrees, find out more information as well as click to purchase.
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Big box retailers including Walmart’s Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target are using a variety of interesting wayfinding technologies to improve customer navigation inside the physical store.
The result is designed to enable efficiency in the customer journey. This is in response to the fact that as online sales growth surpasses brick-and-mortar, customers are expecting more than just easy access to online products in physical stores, they also want to find them faster.
Cue solutions ranging from robots to augmented reality mapping. Read on for some of the strongest examples in the market to date…
Home store Lowe’s was one of the first retailers to introduce an app with augmented reality indoor mapping. Instead of a 2-D image, this mobile service projects navigation signs and price specials on top of the user’s field of view – meaning they can see which direction to go in projected through their smartphones straight onto the floor or space in front of them.
Outside of the retail space, Legoland in Denmark has recently experimented with an AR wayfinding app that helps visitors navigate around the park via a mini Lego avatar. They can also then receive real-time information on wait times ahead of them.
Sam’s Club Now in Dallas, Walmart’s test store for technology, is also focusing on a mobile-first shopping experience. Its Scan & Go app helps customers easily access products with an integrated system using voice search for navigation. When a shopper tells the app what they need, a map directs them to the item on the shopfloor.
Home Depot’s version meanwhile, allows users to use voice or visual search to find a specific item and then be shown exactly where it’s located within the store. Macy’s launched something similar back in 2016 with IBM Watson, which enabled users to ask question as to where specific products, departments, and brands were located, as well as what services and facilities could be found in a particular store.
From voice technology then comes robotics. Lowe’s was also one of the first to make it easier for customers to find help on the shop floor by deploying robot attendants. The “LoweBot” responds to voice commands, guiding customers through the aisles with smart laser sensors.
For Kyle Nel, executive director at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the LoweBot resolves a common problem: “When I walk into a store and I want to know where something is I want to know right then — I don’t want to have to download an app — a robot can really help with that.”
Target is heavily investing in beacon technology for the sake of navigation also. It renewed its stores to use energy-efficient LED lighting with built-in Bluetooth beacons, which enable the store’s app to show customers their real-time location on the shop floor in a similar experience to that of Google Maps. They also help notify customers when they walk by one of Target’s “Cartwheel” deals.
Gatwick Airport has also invested in beacon technology as part of its £2.5bn transformation. Here, 2,000 indoor navigation beacons have been installed to help customers easily navigate around the terminals and reduce the amount of missed flights. Augmented reality plays a part here too, with a blue line mapped through the smartphone for users to show them which direction to go in.
The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.
Lego is hosting a pop-up space where visitors can only shop exclusive streetwear merchandise by scanning a gigantic Snapchat code.
Located in Central London, the space is entirely empty apart from a bigger-than-life Snapcode, that once scanned gives users access to a special Snapchat lens that features a virtual storefront.
From then, users can walk around the physical room and view the store through their phones, featuring rails of merchandise, a DJ booth, cash till and arcade machine.
When approaching one of the rails customers can choose between three different types of merchandise – sweatshirts, caps and t-shirts – and view them on a Lego character. They are then directed to a dedicated e-commerce page that displays the products on a real-life model, and choose their size before completing purchase.
The limited edition collection is available in 12,000 individual items across all three categories. Customers don’t need to visit the London pop-up store to get their hands on the merchandise, however. The Snapcode is also available through flyers that once scanned trigger the same retail feature.
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Chanel’s newly-opened flagship in Paris will serve as a testing ground for the label’s digital initiatives, aiming to create an increasingly omnichannel retail experience.
This is part of an innovation partnership with Farfetch announced earlier this year, which will see the luxury brand develop new clienteling tools both online and in-store. Called Augmented Retail, the vision will use data and other digital capabilities to create a personalized shopping experience, according to Farfetch founder and CEO José Neves.
Speaking on the partnership in February, he said:“It is truly an honour to be partnering with Chanel to accelerate the development of technology-driven initiatives which will ensure they remain at the forefront of retail excellence and elevate the already unparalleled level of luxury experience for its clients that Chanel is renowned for.”
Among the digital features set to be rolled out over the next six months is the launch of a dedicated Chanel app, which will focus on giving its most loyal shoppers more access to the brand, as well as a more tailored shopping experience.
Beyond tech enhancements, the five-storey space has a heavy focus on its VIP customers, with the two top floors dedicated to exclusive experiences, such as enjoying private meals and even taking a shower.
Luxury brands and retailers are increasingly dedicating shopfloor space to providing its most engaged customers with experiences that go beyond shopping. Earlier this year, online retailer Matchesfashion.com opened its first physical space at a townhouse in London, featuring floors with the sole purpose of hosting events such as book signings, podcast recordings, exhibitions and exercise classes.
How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.
Facebook is testing augmented reality ads that will allow users to try on products virtually directly from their news feeds, in another competitive move with Snapchat.
Announced at a Facebook holiday shopping event in New York on Tuesday (July 10), this is an indication that the social media platform is further investigating tools to harness the user’s smartphone camera.
“Better marketing equals better shopping,” said Ty Ahmad-Taylor, VP of product marketing at Facebook. “You connect with [customers] in a way that’s unusual and new, and you can deliver messages to them in a format they want to accept.”
Currently trialling in the US throughout the summer, brands such as Michael Kors, Bobbi Brown, Wayfair and Sephora are already on board. The Michael Kors advert, for example, allows users to tap a visual to virtually try on sunglasses; meanwhile, homewares brand Wayfair allows the user to tap to visualize a piece of furniture in their home.
In May, Facebook announced an augmented reality capability on Messenger that allows brands to speak to users in a more experiential manner. Nike, for instance, trialled the feature via its SNKRS chatbot to unlock an AR experience where users could buy limited edition shoes. The launch of AR-enabled advertising is a natural progression for the platform, who in 2016 bought AR face filter app MSQRD.
Meanwhile, other social media platforms where visuals are a pivotal part of the user experience, have also been quick to harness the potential of AR. Snapchat has recently also teamed up with Nike to offer an AR experience that was geo-fenced and allowed users to buy limited edition shoes (which sold out in 23 minutes).
Instagram however is evolving its booming Stories feature – which as of May 2018 had 150m daily active users – to allow brands that are advertising to add stickers that click through to e-commerce pages. As users migrate from Snapchat‘s ephemeral experience to the very similar functionality found on Instagram Stories, AR will undoubtedly play a very important role in how the popular feature evolves.
As technologies such as augmented reality and image recognition mature, social media platforms are going to continue to fight for an ever bigger slice of its users’ mobile behaviors – in this case, the smartphone camera.
Amazon is currently inviting people to have their bodies 3D scanned at its NYC offices, hinting at the e-commerce giant’s future plans of entering the virtual try-on and personalized fit space.
According to The Wall Street Journal, participants are being asked to return every two weeks to have their bodies scanned over the course of 20 weeks. They are also being asked to answer a series of fitness and health questions, and complete an online survey that determines weight-related loss and goals in the past year. The survey reads: “We are interested in understanding how bodies change shape over time.”
The project comes from Amazon’s new 3D body scanning unit, and is assumed to tie to a broader aim of improving the fit of clothing sold online – one of the industry’s greatest challenges. It comes after Amazon paid a reported $100m+ to acquire Body Labs, a startup that creates 3D body models to support B2B software applications, back in October 2017.
At the time TechCrunch reported that Body Labs’ website, which is currently down, demonstrated how its API could be used to “accurately predict and measure the 3D shape of your customers using just a single image”, which in turn could be used to power custom apparel or be used by fashion e-commerce retailers.
Over the past couple of years Amazon has been making aggressive moves towards the fashion category, both from a hardware, service and merchandise perspective.
In April 2017, it released the Echo Look, a device that uses a camera to help users keep track of their outfits and receive style advice. Its try-before-you-buy Prime Wardrobe service, launched last summer, is also now open to consumers beyond the Prime membership and is due to launch imminently.
The retailer has so far developed over 50 in-house apparel labels for women, men and children, showing that there is virtually no corner of the apparel industry that it doesn’t have covered.
Zara is set to launch an AR experience that will enable in-store customers to hold their phones up and see models come to life on their screens. Launching on April 18, the feature will be available on Zara’s shopping app and be triggered when shoppers are located at one of its 120 flagships globally.
Pictures released by the retailer show that in-store AR prompts will be featured on window and mannequin displays, encouraging shoppers to hold their phones up with phrases such as “Shop the Look”. The functionality will also allow customers at home to hover their phones over Zara delivery packages to reveal visuals.
The initiative is part of a large drive to place Zara at the heart of the digital revolution in retail. In January, the retailer’s owner, Inditex, revealed its future-facing plan to tackle consumers’ ever-changing demands under a “four pillars of retail” strategy, one of which is focused on technology and enabling consumers to move seamlessly across platforms.
This preceded the launch of Zara’s tech-enabled pop-up in London, as well as the announcement that the retailer will start using automated kiosks in-store and robots behind the scenes in order to accelerate the click & collect process.