Product Placement Goes to the Metaverse for Forever 21

Forever 21

Twenty-one years of age. A time when new opportunities are on the horizon and life is just beginning.

This is perhaps the case for the fast-fashion retailer Forever 21, named after the idea that many people want to remain young forever.

Forever 21 is now one of many big brands like Nike’s acquisition of the digital startup RTFKT, Facebook, Adidas Originals which now has an NFT (non-fungible token) collection, and more changing up how they operate, now exploring the creative ways virtual reality can engage consumers and keep them coming back for more.

This migration over into 3-D virtual reality from Forever 21, founded in the mid-1990s, continues to interest both retailers and consumers — especially digitally-driven, social media savvy Generation Z consumers. Perhaps it’s because the metaverse is a new way of getting the attention of consumers in a heavily saturated and competitive online global market.

As David Ripert, co-founder and CEO of Poplar Studio, told PYMNTS, “[Virtual reality] is something retailers need to experiment with now and start to get ready for because it’s whoever starts first and builds these experiences that’s going to really bring that new generation of consumers into the store.”

Roblox, a Possible Tipping Point for Retail 

Forever 21 now has a new game up on the metaverse called Roblox, launched alongside Virtual Brand Group, a company that makes metaverse worlds. Roblox, as PYMNTS reported last February, saw a huge revenue surge last year up topping $900 million. The company went public last March and has worked to transition from a site used primarily by children to one adults flock to as well.

According to the Forever 21/Roblox website, consumers who explore the virtual shop will have access to exclusive gear. Some clothing items like a knit beanie, zip-up jacket, and a faux fur backpack from Kendall and Kylie Jenner are listed as being exclusively featured in an online world.

This model appears to model what other stores in the metaverse space are doing now, such as how Adidas Originals also offers users with special entry to various experiences and goods you can only partake in if you’re part of the metaverse world.

Via Roblox, consumers can make and direct their own Forever 21 stores and partake in monthly launches. They can design what they’d like the stores to look like and communicate with other users.

Is the Retail Metaverse World too Hyped Up? 

This is a big, perhaps high-risk, high-reward move for Forever 21, a company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection right before COVID-19 hit.

As The New York Times reported, “The bankruptcy is a blow to a company that prided itself on embodying the American dream, as well as a reminder of how quickly the retail landscape is transforming.”

Right before the pandemic began, e-commerce sales at Forever 21 comprised 16 percent of sales and the store saw a decline in revenue from $4.4 billion in 2016 to $3.3 billion in 2018. Forever 21 was later bought out of bankruptcy by David Simon, the CEO of Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners.

As consumers — especially younger consumers — seek to support ethical and sustainable brands, Forever 21 has been actively working towards aligning its business model with consumer demands. For instance, the fast-fashion brand lists on its website a variety of ways the company works to do its part environmentally, like having a solar-powered headquarters in Los Angeles, installing energy-efficient lighting in its stores, recycling shipment boxes at stores and in the distribution center, partnering with PETA to avoid animal cruelty tied to fur sales across stores, and so on.

Going back to the metaverse concept, the question remains: Will consumers dig Forever 21’s metaverse? Is it an authentic way to capture and keep an audience? Forever 21 is working to expand its online (and in-person) offerings, just earlier this month announcing a partnership with JCPenney.

The bottom line is that the metaverse must be a break from standard offerings. It must offer an insider’s view of a store people love to shop at. And it must be something that those familiar with online gaming feel offers something fresh and unique that can’t be found in another metaverse next door.

If a company, for example, is offering exclusive items only available in the metaverse, these items should truly stand out and be something people yearn for as something that makes them feel connected to the brand as a whole, versus something they can find a similar version of easily on Amazon. A psychological connection and a sense of personal identity that’s tied to personal growth and expansion in the metaverse is key.

Generation Z consumers (and others, of course) are over-saturated with all things digital and tend to function on media overload. Therefore, the metaverse for both Forever 21 and others must represent that “Wow!” factor creatively and uniquely that goes well beyond fleeting novelty.

The metaverse is young, but it won’t remain young forever. Time will tell what consumers think of current offerings and how the metaverse of today will evolve.