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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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How Havaianas is using collaborations to take over the world

“Collaborations to me, are a love affair,” says Eno Polo, US president of Alpagartas, the parent company of the world’s most popular flip flop brand, Havaianas, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

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Collaborations are at the core of both the brand’s success and its wide reach, but in order to become successful, they need to remain authentic, he explains. “It has to be two-way. I think a lot of brands out there force collaborations, they pay for collaborations. But if you pay for going out with a girl, I don’t call that a love affair. I’d rather it be a natural feeling – she likes me, I like her – and we go out together. That’s what I call a true collaboration, and those are the ones I think are most successful.”

Havaianas shot onto the international stage when French designer Jean Paul Gaultier accessorized his models on the New York and Paris catwalks with the flip flops in 1999, instantly turning them into an object of desire. What followed was a series of fashion brands wanting to collaborate with the now-iconic brand, hoping to borrow some of the color and freshness that only a Brazilian label could bring to the table.

Today, Havaianas produces over 250 million pairs a year, or 10 pairs a second, and is Europe’s number one sandal brand.

Beyond its ambitious expansion plans across the globe comes a mounting pressure for the brand to tackle the issue of sustainability, which may well still be in toddler stages in its native country, but is steadily becoming a business imperative elsewhere.

For Polo, the fact that the company is scaling its retail footprint and office count across Europe and the US means there is a growing internal pressure to become more sustainable. The brand is doing so by focusing on employee welfare, but also wants to tackle and own the fight for sustainability at the beaches where its products are so ever-present.

During this conversation, Polo also talks through the company’s history from catering to Brazil’s working class to hitting the beaches of Ibiza; the importance of creating a retail experience that puts a smile on the customer’s feet; and why creating such a simple product allows the brand to remain fun.

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how 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.

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Comment counts: Why we need to protect influencer autonomy

Brands partnering with influencers must ensure to respect their individual voices to guarantee the exchange of natural, relatable and engaging messages says Georgina Rutherford of IMA (Influencer Marketing Agency).

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One of influencer Marta Riumbau’s posts for the #myhavaianassummer campaign

They started out as bloggers; new-age authors dedicated to growing devoted fanbases through their outward-facing publishing platforms marked as favourites in our internet browsers. Then with the rapid rise of social media, they transformed into digital influencers; a tribe of thought leaders with the power to engage interested audiences on a big scale.

What makes this tribe so remarkable? Influencers are a class of their own, a species that continues to evolve. They transform and adapt according to the consumer and that’s why nobody wants to miss out.

Everyone from broadcasting networks to big-name brands want a piece of the action. Influencer-brand collaborations take many forms, and industry players are continually looking to work out how they can claim such individuals as their own.

It’s time to take a step back and leave the power where it belongs: with the influencer.

Why? The beauty of influencer marketing lies in the fact it is online word-of-mouth. People influence people. A Nielsen study confirms that 84% of consumers say recommendations from friends and family are the most influential and trustworthy source.

Influencers have worked hard to earn their followers’ trust so they can be considered as important as friends or family members. It seems the industry forgets this when they expect to be able to acquire influencer power as part of their own brand image.


Good ??? Morning ??? Brasil #myhavaianassummer

A photo posted by Marta Riumbau (@riumbaumarta) on

Take NBC, for example. With the aim of inspiring millennials to tune in to the Olympic Games, the television network enlisted German YouTuber Flula Borg to feature in a series of videos starring US Olympic athletes. The content was to be shared across NBC Olympics’ owned social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.

To enlist a popular content creator to connect with this particular target audience is a great idea. Perfect, in fact. However, if the content were to be shared on the influencer’s own social channels, where he has an intimate connection with his following, then they would have utilised the power of the collaboration to much better effect.

What NBC is doing is not ‘wrong’, but is would be advantageous for a brand to capitalise on the direct relationship between an influencer and their following. Without this connection, the influencer loses their most important weapon: authenticity.

Authenticity is the key ingredient to successful influencer marketing. Consumers are now savvy enough to sense dishonest online marketing, so influencers who are true to themselves appeal to an audience who seek a relationship built on trust and credibility.

It also plays a big role in ensuring that brands do not get lost in the noise of the influencer world. Many opt for short-term paid partnerships rather than manifesting long-term relationships with influencers who truly fit their brand, but the reality is that influencer marketing is built on real relationships and honesty. Finding influencers who know and are dedicated to their audiences is the solution to appealing to consumers in the most genuine way.

So why is it that brands seem to overlook the importance of this bond between an influencer and their audience, sharing collaborative content on their owned channels instead? To build their owned audiences. But things have changed and brands have to remember that consumers would rather listen to other consumers. The top ranked accounts on social channels by subscribers are testament to this – there are hardly any brands to be seen. This shift is what Douglas Holt calls “crowdculture” in the Harvard Business Review.

Social media allows individuals to become powerful cultural innovators, creating better content than brands ever could and pushing them out of the picture. For this reason, brands are better off letting the influencers do the talking instead of pushing branded content through their own channels.


Havaianas did this really well with its recent initiative aimed at introducing the iconic brand to a younger teenage audience (as pictured here). A number of European vloggers joined the brand on a trip to Brazil where they immersed themselves in the country’s cultural heritage. Each influencer shared their experience through video content unique to their individual styles with no e-commerce links, minimal product push and the simple hashtag accompaniment: #myhavaianassummer.

By keeping the ball in the influencers’ courts, allowing them the freedom to share original content through their own voices, Havaianas got the most out of influencer marketing. The brand was provided with a diverse range of exciting content that directly targeted a large percentage of its target audience. Furthermore, it also secured a set of strong ambassadors that can grow and develop with the brand.

The industry does not need any more cookie cutter brand-spokespeople or new-era media icons. It needs more content creators. More passion. More dynamism. More individuality. Because let’s face it, influencers still have the freedom to take an angle that most advertisers or journalists can’t.

It all comes back to the fact that people listen to other people, not brands. Brands have to accept that traditional branding models have been flipped on their head. They need to let go and allow influencers to take control, so that the message is conveyed in the best possible way and the influencer can preserve their own voice; the voice the audience connected to in the first place. Want to reach that audience? Trust the influencer.

Georgina Rutherford is marketing manager at IMA (Influencer Marketing Agency). Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via