“A major flaw of e-commerce is the boredom and frustration associated with online shopping… AR, VR and the metaverse can transform the consumer experience by providing a level of engagement that just previously wasn’t there.”Stefan Hauswiesner, Reactive Reality
Virtual stores are no longer digital replicas of physical locations. Instead, these branded, 3D, navigable spaces are being designed to offer the best attributes of both the physical and virtual worlds. That is, as Vogue Business succinctly puts it, the ‘immersive, visually appealing experiences for entertainment and utility’ from physical stores, and the ‘convenience and data’ from e-commerce. What’s more, these virtual stores, along with in-game partnerships and brand NFTs may well be paving the way to a full ‘metacommerce experience’. An experience that includes purchasing and wearing digital items entirely in virtual spaces.
This shift marks a new willingness for brands and consumers to experiment digitally. And this appetite, in turn, has been stimulated both by the pandemic and the need it brought for virtual retail, plus the current flurry of excitement around the metaverse. Brands want to be ahead of the game when it comes to innovation and immersive brand experiences. And consumers are increasingly interested in their digital selves and what things look like in that environment. The metaverse provides a neat solution. How? The metaverse, as Stefan Hauswiesner puts it, is an “embodied internet where people want to express themselves through their appearance, just like in real life. It’s about user empowerment in AR and VR just like what we’ve witnessed previously in photos (Instagram) and videos (Youtube)”.
Read on for our favourite examples of unique brand experiences in the digital world that are demonstrating innovation & creativity, engaging younger audiences and new opportunities to purchase.
Balenciaga in Fortnite
A great example of a brand-created destination within an existing platform, Balenciaga was the first high-end fashion brand to take on Fortnite at the end of 2021. Digital outfits inspired by real-life Balenciaga pieces could be purchased from its virtual boutique by players of the open-world video game. In addition to purchasing merchandise, some items could be unlocked, like Balenciaga’s Triple S Sneakers. During the week the hub was live, players could try on outfits (in changing booths), add the brand’s merchandiser to their inventories and simply hang out with each other.
To link the hub to the real world, a line of clothing was made available in some Balenciaga stores and website; and fans that bought real-life clothing could then unlock the same outfits in Fortnite.
To top the experience tsunami off, they created a DOOH activation: a striking 3D billboard experience in London, New York, Tokyo and Seoul.
Gucci in Roblox
Last year Gucci wanted to tell its story ahead of its centenary and produced a virtual recreation of a real-world installation in Florence. The Gucci Garden – a two-week art installation aimed at building brand awareness among young customers – was hosted by gaming platform Roblox. Mirroring its real-life counterpart, the Gucci Garden in Roblox offered multiple themed rooms dedicated to the brand’s campaigns while offering an out-of-this-world experience.
As visitors entered the Gucci Garden, avatars became neutral mannequins. As they wandered through the various rooms, their mannequin would absorb elements of the exhibition. With every guest experiencing the rooms in a different order and holding other fragments of the spaces, they come out at the end of their journey as unique creations. Stunning.
Louis Vuitton – Louis: The Game
This adventure video game follows Vivienne, a mascot created by the brand monogram, as she traverses the virtual world and journeys to colourful locations across the globe in search of 200 collectible NFT candles. Released to celebrate Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday, stories about the journeys of Louis and his family are unlocked by each candle, and guests can collect 30 NFTs, including 10 by Beeple – the artist whose digital collage sold as an NFT at a Christie’s auction for $69.3 million. Like other brands, Louis Vuitton is on a mission to explore ways to reach younger audiences without putting them off by having to buy anything.
Selfridges and Pokemon
2021 marked Pokémon’s 25th anniversary. To celebrate this, Selfridges, with designer Charli Cohen and Yahoo RYOT Lab created Electric/City, created a virtual city where you could shop for exclusive physical and virtual products.
Visitors would be immersed in the 3D environment, inspired by the fashion capitals of the world, where they would create unique avatars to explore the digital space. These avatars could be dressed in the digital garments and viewed through the AR body-tracking Snapchat lens; and also shared on social media and other virtual environments.
Linking it to the real world, Selfridges put on an in-store launch promotion where visitors could register for a digital wallet to enter physical easter egg hunts to win physical prizes or Charli Cohen digital collectables.
Finally, a couple of examples that demonstrate brands taking a step towards creating a metaverse-type brand environment, with virtual stores that are more immersive and shareable than traditional e-commerce sites:
Harrods’ virtual Dior Beauty store. An enchanting shopper experience inside Harrods, with flowers sprouting from the polished floor, under a domed starry night sky. It includes 3D, photorealistic, shoppable products, as well as videos, music and interactive features.
Charlotte Tilbury’s Beauty Wonderland. This includes a “Magic Charlotte” avatar, which guides customers through three-dimensional themed “beauty zones”, like Rock ‘n’ Roll or Hollywood, as they shop personalised makeup kits. Visitors can watch recorded tutorials, live events and invite a friend to join via video. The ambition was for Tilbury’s customers to “feel like you are literally stepping into my world,” Charlotte Tilbury.
This is Charlotte Tilbury’s first virtual store. The brand has previously used augmented reality mirrors in stores.
In both cases, we can see how brands have rethought about their online presence. They’ve gone beyond the purely functional – with an emphasis on convenience and speed, to embrace surprise and delight – just as you’d see in a store window display.
All our examples display a marriage between experiential retail and e-commerce. It’s clear there’s lots to like about the movement from a retail perspective. Ultimately it’s about customer engagement: the more people engage, the more they buy. In every case, the consumer has a personalised interactive experience that fosters a stronger connection between them and the brand. Spaces are visually appealing with “interest points” encouraging customers to further engage with products, enough even to return and to share with friends. According to Obsess, on average, customers spend almost as much time on one virtual store page as they do on all the pages in the rest of an e-commerce site combined. Contrary to physical world experiences, virtual retail experiences have few limitations, allowing accessibility and fantastical components that are not restricted by space, size, construction needs, or location (think Burberry & Harrod’s Greek temple in the clouds). And virtual experiences are able to track users’ activity from movement around the space to demographics appeal and checkout process.
There’s still a way to go in metacommerce – both in terms of demand and the tech, but at Circus we believe we’re now firmly in a virtuous circle within the virtual revolution – and the early adopters are already reaping the gains from it.
In the meantime, if you or your team would like to know more about the metaverse and what it can do for you and your clients, get in touch. We could even meet in the metaverse! (And we’ll set that up for you).
Here’s an image from our most recent presentation introducing brand managers to the metaverse…