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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
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  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.

Lego
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
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. 

Nike
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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Editor's pick product

These Adidas sneakers double as transport passes in Berlin

adidas BVG sneakers collaboration metro tickets
adidas EQT Support 93/Berlin sneaker

Adidas collaborated with Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), Berlin’s transport company, to create a limited edition collection of 500 pairs of shoes fitted with a season ticket worth €730.

The EQT Support 93/Berlin shoe, as it’s called, uses the same camouflage pattern used on the city’s train seats. Embedded in the tongue is a fabric version of the BVG annual ticket, which can be used as a regular ticket covering the bus, tram and underground in zones A and B.

The shoe, which is now sold out, retailed for €180, therefore attracting a mix of sneaker heads and those seeking a commuting bargain by saving significant money off their €730 annual travel pass.

adidas EQT Support 93/Berlin sneakers train ticket BVG berlin collaboration
adidas EQT Support 93/Berlin sneakers

The launch aimed to modernize BVG’s 90-year-old image, and also tapped into a wider trend of fashionable labels elevating traditionally uncool companies, such as Vetements’ recent collaboration with DHL.

The design was launched in January at Overkill, a shoe store in Berlin’s hipster Kreuzberg neighbourhood. Fans queueing outside were treated to Mettbrötchen, a minced raw pork on a bread roll, which is a decidedly untrendy breakfast that Overkill owner Julian Kalitta described as something you would imagine the city’s tram drivers eating before work.

adidas EQT Support 93/Berlin sneakers
adidas EQT Support 93/Berlin sneakers

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Blocks mobile social media

Footlocker jumps into emoji space with sneaker icons

footlocker_shoemoji

Emojis are increasingly infiltrating daily life thanks to growing integration with mobile messaging services, but more recently as a product of numerous branded launches in the space too.

Burger King, Coca-Cola and Ikea have all experimented with their own emojis or full emoji keyboards, now we’re seeing Footlocker the latest to release its own line fit for smartphone usage.

The sports retailer has introduced 80 iconic sneaker replicas ready for use as part of its new app for iOS and Android. The “Shoemoji” library includes styles from brands including Nike, Converse, adidas, Under Armour and more, and will regularly be updated with new products as they launch.

“Just as smartphone users communicate with each other using various emojis, customers can now share their love of sneakers in a new, visual way and be the first to show off some of their favorite styles with new Shoemojis,” reads the write-up.

BBDO New York, the agency behind the concept, added: “Communicating with your fellow sneakerheads will never be the same.”

It’s a smart move, today there are 41.5bn messages and 6bn emoticons or stickers sent worldwide every day on mobile messaging apps, according to Swyft Media. For Footlocker, the launch is a nice PR story, but also a tool by which to generate downloads of its new app, not to mention a great engagement opportunity tied to future product releases.