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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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business e-commerce Editor's pick Uncategorized

Alibaba is nothing like Amazon, says president J Michael Evans

Alibaba Group’s president J Michael Evans is very clear on the differences between the Chinese retailer and arguably its biggest competitor, Amazon, as outlined at NRF’s Big Show in New York.

The biggest differentiator is the way in which it operates as a marketplace, and not a retailer, he says. This is an important distinction because it means the group does not compete with brands, but rather helps them better connect directly to the consumer by handling logistics and sharing data. At present, there are over 10 million sellers on the platform, from brands and retailers to SMEs (smaller and medium-sized companies).

Secondly is Alibaba’s impressive scale: it has 600 million consumers and delivers 70 million packages a day, while its last Single’s Day sale sold over $31 billion in product. The company also has the world’s biggest IPO in history at $25 billion.

Clientele is also predominantly younger than its American counterpart, with 80% of its consumers being under the age of 35, while 40% are younger than 25. This has a strong influence in how Alibaba creates experiences that merge digital and physical, with mobile behavior always being front of mind.

The last difference, Evans emphasises is that the company is building bridges between its online business and the offline market, particularly in China through its New Retail concept. “The future of retail is all retail,” he says, and how to integrate it all properly. The concept is being implemented across eight different categories and sees the entire digitisation of the retail value chain, for the benefit of both the merchant and the consumer. The consumer, he says, is easier to please because they don’t care if they’re online or offline – they just want to shop. The merchant piece is more complicated however, because it involves many factors that need to be better linked together, such as inventory, payments and fulfilment. The concept can be best seen at play at Hema grocery stores in China, which include technologies such as facial recognition and dynamic pricing.

During the conversation, Evans also touched on advice for brands or retailers who want to enter China. “The market requires patience,” he explains, saying that its growing middle class, largely led by the young consumer, likes understanding what a brand is selling and whether it fits their lifestyle. Simply coming into the country and wanting to sell product quickly will not work, he says. “If you see China as long term, with the largest consumer group in the world, then this is a great market for you.”

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