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5 brands tapping virtual storefronts to drive engagement and push conversion.

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…

Havaianas’s boardwalk virtual store

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, 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.

Lego’s augmented reality store

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 Santa Monica Pier displays

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. 

The Nike Air Jordan III “Tinker” sold out on Snapchat

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.

Outdoor Voices
Outdoor Voices augmented reality experience

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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Sunglass Hut sees 21% conversion increase with AI-enabled site personalisation

Sunglass Hut's My Frame Finder tool from Sentient Aware
Sunglass Hut’s My Frame Finder tool from Sentient Aware

Sunglass Hut is working with artificial intelligence firm, Sentient Technologies, to provide on-the-fly search personalisation for consumers.

Doing so has resulted in 21% higher conversions from shoppers exposed to the personalised experience compared to those just using standard search filtering methods over the past nine months, according to the team. Average order values are also 8% higher.

Using Sentient’s Aware platform, the initiative delivers an individualised shopping experience for every customer when they come to the site called “My Frame Finder”. This AI can then understand shopper intent by analysing hundreds of different vectors of an image the user is interacting with.

The aim of doing so, according to a case study released by the Sentient Technologies team, was to find a way to translate the customer service Sunglass Hut offers in store – where sales associates act as personal stylists able to help customers find the looks they’re after – into the digital space.

Shannon Rose, senior director of e-commerce for parent company, Luxottica Brands, said: “We wanted to find a solution that made shopping online as personal and delightful? as shopping in one of our stores. The tools we had at our disposal for our e-commerce store couldn’t achieve that and sometimes they left our customers feeling lost or unsatisfied. Sentient Aware was quick to integrate, started delivering immediate results and offered us the ability to expand across different customer entry points.”

The case study explains: “What makes Aware so unique is that it uses deep learning to build a model of a retailer’s catalogue using only its images, allowing the AI to understand quickly the relationship between products in a catalogue, much like a trained store associate would.”

Sunglass Hut is now also using Sentient Aware to power its product detail page recommendations and to include a Shop Similar Styles feature alongside.

Up next is applying the tool to the mobile experience. “Given Aware’s success on desktop, ?we’re excited to move to the next stage of deployment,” said Rose. “Mobile is one of our biggest sources of customer traffic and one of the hardest platforms on which to achieve a high conversion rate.”

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Digital snippets: Oculus, Luxottica, Wren, Asos, Nike, Birchbox, Tom Ford, Kenzo

The big tech story this week has of course been about Facebook’s purchase of virtual reality headset company Oculus VR. But there were lots of others to know about too. Read on for an edit…


  • Google deal with Luxottica will bring Glass to Ray-Ban, Oakley [WSJ]
  • How Wren made a viral video of strangers kissing and increased sales by nearly 14,000% [Business Insider]
  • Asos and Nike celebrate 27 years of Air Max with first Google+ shoppable hangout [Marketing Magazine]
  • Birchbox, seller of beauty products, steps out from web to open New York store [NY Times]
  • Tom Ford joins the world of e-commerce with sexy new web store [Fashionista]
  • Kenzo’s virtual aquarium highlights the danger of overfishing [PSFK]
  • Chanel releases new Coco Mademoiselle Keira Knightley ad – She’s Not There [The Inspiration Room]
  • Lancôme ramping up digital initiatives [WWD]
  • How Yoox became the Amazon of the fashion world [Telegraph]
  • Why in-store tracking might not be as bad as it sounds [CNNMoney]
  • The Shazam of fashion is here, introducing ‘ASAP54? [Styleite]
  • Silicon Valley never talks about the real reason you don’t own a smart watch or ‘wearable tech’ [Business Insider]



Calvin Klein proves value of video for conversions

The launch of the all-new Push Positive Bra from Calvin Klein was its single-best (for a bra) in the brand’s history and it sounds like its video campaign starring Lara Stone dancing to Salt-n-Pepa’s Push It, is why.

According to a story focused on video as a strong measure of ROI in WWD yesterday, the 32-second ad from last August has had 10.9m views to date and garnered more than 450m impressions. Importantly, during the time of the campaign, saw a 30% increase in overall traffic and a 385% increase in referral traffic from YouTube.

Ad dollars behind the spot undoubtedly helped – the brand took over YouTube’s homepage in 10 markets, including Singapore, Taiwan and Korea, and placed the ad in-stream on multiple other YouTube videos through the site’s TrueView advertising system.

The audience retention rate for the video – meaning those who watched the whole segment rather than clicking away – was well above the industry standard too, at over 80%. Its men’s Concept underwear spot, which first aired during the Super Bowl this February, meanwhile, also saw a retention rate of over 85%.

Calvin Klein CEO, Tom Murry, said: “As a brand, video has not only been integral to our overall communications strategy but also a part of the brand identity. We see YouTube as the natural place to house and curate our digital video content… [It’s] an impactful way to reach and interact with our audience through multiple touch points — desktop, tablet and mobile.”

According to WWD, video is proving to be the most powerful digital medium for reaching consumers in a measurable way. Importantly it’s also proving a killer option for the fashion and retail space in terms of driving conversion. Statistics from YouTube and research firm Compete show four in 10 consumers visit a store either online or in person as a direct result of watching a video online. This shopper also tends to be a retailer’s most valuable customer: 28% of those who watched a retailer’s online video spent more than $500 on apparel in the past six months, while only 2% of non-video watchers did.

Maureen Mullen, L2’s director of research and brand advisory, added that video is now a “way to push consumers further down the purchase funnel”.