Today, online shopping is evolving beyond the basics of navigating a website and the ease of one-step checkout. In the pandemic era, e-commerce is becoming more and more virtual and reaching the Metaverse.
As brands look to find more meaningful ways to connect with shoppers at home and consumers seek a more personalized experience when shopping online, brands such as Ralph Lauren, General Mills, Charlotte Tilbury, American Girl and Mondelez’s Lacta are expanding their stores footprint – digitally.
While some brands experimented with virtual shopping experiences before the pandemic – Tommy Hilgifer created a virtual pool party in 2019 to showcase his summer collection – virtual stores became a way to safely recreate the physical shopping experience amidst blockages of Covid. And during the 2021 vacation, online stores became the first step in the metaverse for many brands.
Online stores represent the future of how marketing and e-commerce will interact and provide a more fun and interactive way for brands to present products in the digital world. All of this is helping brands discover the metaverse, a collection of interoperable virtual worlds that are seen as the next phase of the Internet.
Online stores can be an easy entry point for consumers who aren’t familiar with the metaverse but are familiar with a brand. They are also a way to connect with younger consumers who are used to virtual technology.
This happens as tech giants like Facebook bet their future on the metaverse, and platforms like Snap emphasize augmented and virtual reality capabilities to help brands get online stores up and running.
Traditional e-commerce sites are typically 2D interfaces with product photo grids that customers need to sort through. Online stores, on the other hand, are immersive, three-dimensional experiences that can be browsed. They are not necessarily exact replicas of traditional stores, but can combine the physical store experience with the ease of e-commerce.
“The online store environment can be a photo-realistic version of a physical store or a more creative and fantastical environment graphically reproduced,” said Neha Singh, founder and CEO of Obsess, who helped create online stores for brands like American Girl and Charlotte Tilbury. “Shoppers can explore the virtual environment in the same way they would explore an environment in an online video game, navigating through sections of the store and clicking on products and collections to interact with them.”
For brands looking to reach and better understand their consumers after the end of third-party cookies, e-commerce stores can generate a multitude of data. Obsess, for example, provides detailed, anonymous primary data about every consumer interaction that takes place within the brand’s own online store, according to Singh. For example, a brand can see how many people are visiting each section of the online store, how much time they spend in each section, what products they are selecting and what items they are adding to their cart, among other things.
The American Girl team was inspired to launch their own online store after seeing Ralph Lauren’s last year. “We liked the way customers were able to have an immersive retail experience from the comfort of their own homes,” said Stacey Carpenter, User Experience Manager for American Girl. “Given our experience in experimental retail, we knew we could create a premium virtual experience for customers too.” She added that the brand wanted to help customers discover American Girls’ online stores before taking a personal tour.
The online store American Girl went live in June. Similar to your traditional e-commerce site, there is a version of the store for children and one for adults. The children’s side has a virtual museum housed in a large pink and white mansion. Each room features a different American Girl doll with facts and quizzes about her life. At the end of the museum, children can add items to a digital wish list. The adult site allows users to browse a virtual version of the retailer’s vast storefront in Chicago.
Instead of browsing a website, e-store visitors can explore products based on layout. For example, they can buy dolls, accessories, and clothing based on a specific American Girl, activity, or theme.
The virtual store streamlined the testing of new shopping concepts, according to Carpenter, and allows the brand to quickly change themes to follow the seasons or cultural moments. For Charlotte Tilbury, it allowed the makeup brand to rethink the entire traditional store layout.
In November, Charlotte Tilbury worked with Obsess to create an online vacation store, a free space themed website with floating product tables. The experience has a “buy with friends” feature that allows customers to invite friends and family to shop with them.
No registration is required and groups can shop individually or separately. They can also schedule a virtual makeup appointment.
Lacta, the Brazilian chocolate company owned by Mondelez, hopes to see a similar involvement with its new online chocolate store. The candy brand worked with ByondXR to set up the online store, which will have nearly 80 products for sale, from truffles to candy bars, and will include interactive elements such as questionnaires to help shoppers find the right gift.
“Food and other CPG products will transition to more experience-based sales,” said Eran Galil, ByondXR’s chief technology officer, via email. “The metaverse is a new level by which the food industry can promote itself and stand out from the competition. Better prices are not enough – brands need to sell a better shopping experience. ”
Lacta’s products are usually bought in supermarkets, which is why its current e-commerce site has low traffic and engagement throughout the year, according to Galil. “With the virtual store, [Lacta] now it has its own ‘home’ that elevates the brand’s presence to a more prestigious one – like the main stores specializing in chocolates”, wrote Galil. He adds that the site is still in its infancy, but that the conversion rate is being tracked higher than Lacta’s traditional e-commerce site.
Of course, an online store is not necessarily the right strategy for all brands. Nor does it mean that a retailer should abandon their e-commerce sites in favor of virtual experiences, said MediaLink’s Sharp.
“Digital experiences like this should take into account two different customers – one who wants to meet you and one who just wants to transact,” she said. “If you buy the same product over and over again, an immersive experience can be frustrating.”
Similar to NFTs or Roblox activations, e-stores in Metaverse are another channel for brands to connect with younger, native audiences digitally. For younger generations, online stores can become normal, according to Naom Levavi, CEO of ByondXR.
Online stores allow for more gamification. “They’re more involved, like finding a hidden perfume bottle for a discount code or an AI tool that provides a deep skin analysis, a live stream by an influencer or associate. The list is long,” he said via email. “They are a chance to form an emotional connection with audiences like Millennials and Generation Z, who are more used to virtual technologies and currently see this as a standard that must be met by all brands.”
Matter translated from Adage.
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