Augmented and virtual retail is not new. We first predicted the rise of omnichannel retail five years ago in our Frontier(Less) Retail report, and more recently highlighted augmented retail as a key trend for 2020.

But pandemic shockwaves have jolted the category into overdrive, signaling new growth and opportunities for brands. The augmented reality market in retail, commerce, and marketing is expected to surpass $12 billion in 2025, according to February 2021 estimates from global tech market advisory firm ABI Research. Now, big-name brands are breathing new life into ecommerce with sophisticated immersive spaces—accelerating innovation in virtual retail and bringing it into the mainstream.

Read on for an updated look at how augmented boutiques, enhanced browsing functionality and interactive elements are upleveling ecommerce from functional to fun.

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Machine-A and the Institute of Digital Fashion
  • Machine-A and the Institute of Digital Fashion opened a virtual boutique in February 2021. The space, which was launched to coincide with London Fashion Week, mixes digital content with augmented reality (AR) for an interactive and engaging shopping experience. Visitors can explore Autumn/Winter 2021 collections, view unfinished pieces and read personal messages from the designers.
WEB Tumi
  • Tumi unveiled its first virtual store in February. The 360-degree digital environment lets shoppers navigate the space, ask questions and interact with products as if they were in a physical store, enhanced with an AR function that places life-sized products renderings in shoppers’ homes. It also integrates social and gaming elements, with an in-store selfie display and accompanying Instagram and WeChat games. “We wanted to create an environment that is as close as possible to the actual physical store experience—and make it better,” Adam Hershman, Vice President of TUMI Asia Pacific and Middle East, told Retail in Asia.
WEB Charlotte Tilbury
Charlotte Tilbury
  • Charlotte Tilbury opened an online store in November 2020 that lets shoppers browse through virtual rooms, guided by an avatar of Tilbury. Alongside products, the store integrates AR-powered makeup try-ons and video tutorials.
  • Tommy Hilfiger reimagined the holiday shopping experience in December 2020 with virtual stores, complete with a street view to admire the holiday window displays and a whimsical in-store “snow room.”

Why it’s interesting:

Digital stores are being elevated beyond the original bare bones functionality of ecommerce. “The fact that we’re still using this basic interface that was created 25 years ago to sell books—and so much innovation has happened on the back end, but not on the front-end experience—is very uninspiring,” Neha Singh, founder and CEO of VR ecommcerce startup Obsess—the company behind both the Charlotte Tilbury and Tommy Hilfiger activations—told Glossy. “Ecommerce needed to evolve, and this was the push that it got.”

Now, augmented, experience-driven virtual stores are becoming destinations in their own right—even offering shoppers digital daydreams for a momentary escape. Expect to see continued elevation of next-level virtual retail as the category matures.

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