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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The global gaming market is experiencing rapid growth, with an estimated valuation of $180bn expected by 2021, according to Newzoo.
It is currently dominated by titles such as Fortnite, a free multiplayer game with 250 million users and $2.5m in daily revenue. Streaming platform Twitch, which accounts for 54% of gaming video content revenue, has also been highly successful due to its interactive network of both players and spectators.
Though relatively limited, fashion brands and retailers have been experimenting through collaborations or campaigns that nod to such popular references. Louis Vuitton had a campaign featuring Final Fantasy XIII’s character, Lightning, as the new face of its SS16 collection for instance. More recently, Moschino launched a new collection with Sims, featuring garments with Sims motifs. A virtual hoodie was also released so players could dress their avatars in designer clothing in the game itself.
What’s becoming more interesting however, is the number of brands turning to “gamification” rather. This refers to “the integration of game mechanics into an internal business process, website, or marketing campaign”. It’s a market that was valued at $6.8bn in 2018 and is estimated to rise to $40bn by 2024, according to market research firm Reportlinker.
Its growth has been driven by increased demand for new customer experiences, as well as broader access to smartphone devices. And its success has meant brands and retailers are increasingly jumping in on the action in a bid to use ‘play’ as a way to encourage shopping.
From driving discovery and engagement, to building brand advocacy and loyalty, here are five examples of those using gamification as part of the shopping journey.
Kenzo: Building exclusivity through gaming
French luxury brand Kenzo launched a gamified e-shopping experience last year to promote the release of its new Sonic sneaker. Restricted to just a limited number of players, the aim of the initiative was to highlight the exclusiveness of the product. Getting a turn at playing was not only difficult in the first instance, but once in the game, users had to virtually defeat other opponents in an effort to then get access to buy one of the 100 exclusive pairs of sneakers. The campaign challenged consumers and added excitement to the shopping journey for those lucky enough to even get the chance to hit the purchase stage.
Nike: Enabling user-testing through role play
Nike released a virtual environment called Reactland in Shanghai last year for the launch of its ‘React’ shoe. The game allowed users to test the shoe’s new sole cushioning technology in a unique digital environment. Customers could wear the shoes and run on a treadmill that was connected to a digital character on screen. This enabled them to thoroughly test the product’s durability by virtually climbing buildings and running through simulated streets. The game fueled consumer confidence in the product, leading to 48% of the players purchasing it.
Coca-Cola: Driving sales via virtual incentives
Coca-Cola created a supermarket game in Beijing and Singapore to catch consumers’ attention at the point of purchase in-store. Shoppers could connect to their mobile to the drag-and-shoot game, which involved successfully throwing virtual ice cubes into a glass of coke. Successful completion of the game resulted in prizes such as Coca-Cola discounts or loyalty points. The brand successfully targeted consumers at the moment of intent, and influenced them to pick Coca-Cola over competitors.
Repeller: Bringing play to e-commerce
Popular fashion blog, Man Repeller, recently launched a new e-commerce website called ‘Repeller’, which utilizes gamification in order to enable consumers to shop in a discoverable way. The website is divided into two sections: a normal shopping site and a play side. The play side is an amalgamation of aesthetic imagery and quirky videos, reminiscent of video gaming user interfaces, but this time embedded with directly shoppable products, including handbags, earrings and sunglasses. The somewhat wacky website is being pushed as an opportunity to drive discovery and encourage users to spend more dwell time on the site.
Lancôme: Pushing awareness through scavenger hunts
Beauty brand Lancôme teamed up with Alibaba to create an augmented reality game in Hong Kong, along with a pop-up store, to celebrate Chinese New Year this year. The app featured an AR scavenger hunt where consumers could win limited edition products and gifts by finding and scanning Lancome’s signature beauty product, Genifiques. If they captured three pictures on the hunt, they were then able to wish for any Lancôme product they desired through the app, and be in with a chance of winning it. The game successfully drove awareness of the brand through consumer generated content and brought excitement during a key time of year in the region.
How are you thinking about retail innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.
Amazon has opened 10 virtual reality kiosks in India to promote its Prime Day shopping event, taking place for 36 hours over July 16 and 17.
Users stick on an Oculus Rift headset and are transported to a city filled with Prime Day products. They begin from the comfort of a hot air balloon ride, which gently places them down in an animated park. From there, they can walk through different rooms for different sections of a store – from bath and beauty, to technology and then toys.
The move is one of the more creative iterations of VR retail that we’ve seen – a more engaging experience than the typical recreation of a brick and mortar space in computer imagery.
That is particularly the case because users can handle any product in full 3D by using Oculus Touch controllers. Smartphones can be turned around, clothing can be experienced by being placed on holograms to demonstrate fit, while white goods including fridges and washing machines can be explored from every angle, including inside.
“How do you discover 200-plus products that are not in the market yet? Last year, customers told us ‘we loved the stuff when we got it but we were wary while buying it since it was not something we’d ever seen’,” Akshay Sahi, head of Amazon Prime in India, told Quartz.
“So now with VR, people can see the products in their true form factor. They can see how a microwave is going to look on a countertop and how a dress looks on a model. You can see jewellery up close and observe it in great detail.”
The initiative was pioneered by Amazon India and is in shopping malls in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata.