Brands Are Turning to Virtual Shopping to Measure Event Impact 

During the summer, when outdoor events are in demand, retailers are embracing virtual experiences. It’s not because they can’t stand the heat but because while consumer wallets are on a tight leash, so are many retailers.  

And while virtual storefronts can be costly, they offer the advantage of measurable and scalable outcomes. In contrast, pop-up experiences are often challenging to assess accurately. 

Just last month, J.Crew introduced a virtual beach house store that allowed shoppers to immerse themselves in six themed rooms while browsing and purchasing clothing, shoes and accessories. 

J.Crew’s decision to introduce this immersive experience for the summer was driven by a challenge they faced: restrictions on the number of guests allowed. Derek Yarbrough, the chief marketing officer of J.Crew and Madewell, told CNBC: “With Obsess, we were really looking to have an exciting activation that we could execute for a larger audience and reach more of the people who love the brand in a bigger way. We really wanted this to be a passport to explore the world of J.Crew … and as the team brainstormed on it, it was a little bit of a no-brainer to take the form of a beach house.”   

In May, PYMNTS reported that Elizabeth Arden, the beauty brand owned by Revlon, launched its own virtual store, providing customers with the ability to browse, engage in gameplay, and make purchases. 

“We are truly operating as an omnichannel business to evolve our customer experience and engage a whole new generation of shoppers about our products and legacy through digital storytelling,” Revlon Global Chief Marketing Officer Martine Williamson said at the time of the launch. 

According to the “Beauty and Wellness Digital Payments Tracker®,” a collaborative effort between PYMNTS and American Express, selling beauty products online can pose challenges due to customers’ inclination to experience them in person. Nevertheless, digital technology holds the potential to overcome this obstacle by offering consumers an immersive experience through their screens. 

Read more: Elizabeth Arden Launches Shoppable Virtual Store to Reach New Generation 

Beauty brand Laneige also ditched the sensory overload and launched its first-ever virtual store, inviting customers to explore its skincare collections within environments such as a cloud, underwater setting, and a carousel. Among these spaces, Laneige Lab stands out as a room where customers can immerse themselves in the brand’s skincare product ingredients. 

According to Julien Bouzitat, the chief marketing officer of AmorePacific U.S., the parent company of Laneige, the virtual stores have been designed to serve as a tool for customer engagement. These virtual experiences highlight Laneige’s scientific expertise.

To generate an extra level of excitement, Laneige has partnered with actress Sydney Sweeney. Within a dedicated room in the virtual store, customers can delve into videos and photos featuring Sweeney, establishing a connection between the actress from White Lotus and the Laneige brand. 

Read more: Beauty Brand Laneige Ditches Sensory Experience for Virtual Shopping  

Why Retailers Invest in Virtual Shopping 

At this time of year, retailers traditionally allocate a portion of their resources to testing in-store experiences through the use of pop-up shops.  

While pop-up stores continue to be a popular investment, an ever-growing number of retailers are focusing on the online shopping experience with virtual stores.  

Virtual stores have the potential to offer digital shopping experiences that combine the immersive qualities of physical stores with the convenience of traditional eCommerce. Users can navigate through different rooms, explore a range of products, access detailed descriptions, and easily add items to their shopping carts.  

With the deceleration of eCommerce sales growth, retailers are seeking fresh yet uncomplicated methods to invigorate the online shopping experience and boost sales. 

As an illustration, Elizabeth Arden has integrated a gamification element into its virtual shopping experience. Users who uncover five unique ceramide products are rewarded with a prize.  

Similarly, J.Crew’s virtual store provides a simulated in-store shopping experience by showcasing products throughout the store. Visitors can click on the items to access additional product information, replicating the experience of browsing products in a physical store. 

The appeal in virtual shopping experiences for retailers:  

Tracking. Virtual stores offer the advantage of tracking shopping behaviors, providing retailers with valuable insights. Unlike physical stores, virtual stores allow retailers to monitor actions such as items being removed from carts, products that capture customers’ interest, and alternative brands they consider purchasing.  

Personalization. By observing customers’ virtual store behavior, retailers can personalize content in a nonintrusive manner. This includes tailoring the content based on someone’s specific actions within the virtual store. Retailers can gather valuable insights such as visitor profiles, purchase patterns, cart abandonment rates, and other data that may not be readily visible when physically walking the store floor.  

Friction With Virtual Shopping  

Like any new digital experience, the widespread adoption of virtual stores can be challenging.  

Some individuals may not have the time or interest to engage with shopping in a virtual store environment and may ultimately opt for the convenience of traditional eCommerce websites. Moreover, creating visually appealing virtual stores can be more complex compared to developing an eCommerce site, as it requires attention to detail and a seamless user experience design. 

Despite the challenges, virtual stores, like many tools today (i.e., augmented reality) have the potential to play a role in the realm of online shopping.