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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