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Brands And Retailers Offer Holiday Magic With Virtual Holiday Experiences

December 3, 2020 Erin Sweeney

Shutterstock_1841199370 Computer on table in cozy room with hanging red hat and with Santa Claus on screen blowing golden confetti, sending love, wishing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year online and making miracle come true

Even in the midst of a scaled down holiday season for many revelers, people still want to experience the magic. Resilient and creative brand activations are giving consumers what they want – seasonal fun with the convenience and safety of online shopping – with virtual stores and events for shoppers. Ralph Lauren, Charlotte Tilbury, Sam’s Club and Macy’s are using digital technology, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), to recreate live shopping experiences, provide product insights and allow kids to take selfies with Santa.

“Retailers want their virtual stores to be more than gimmicks,” said Neha Singh, founder and chief executive of Obsess, a software company that specializes in creating virtual stores. The fun and inventive sensory stimulation and easy-to-navigate shopping offered by this year’s newest virtual stores and experiences are likely to drive sales this holiday season, especially with ecommerce at all time high. 

Fashion And Beauty Brands Simulate Holiday Shopping Experiences With Virtual Stores 

Fashion brands Ralph Lauren and Charlotte Tilbury created virtual stores that replicate the live holiday shopping experiences that drove sales during past holiday seasons. These online stores allow shoppers to navigate through virtual display rooms and select items to examine while enjoying the colors, textures, decor and music of the holiday season. 

Ralph Lauren Brings Luxury To The Masses Through Virtual Stores And AR

Ralph Lauren piloted their virtual shopping experience with the Beverly Hills store this fall and saw promising results, with virtual foot traffic 10 times higher than the number of people who would have visited their storefront, reports WWD. In addition to the Ralph Lauren virtual Beverly Hills store, shoppers are able to visit virtual versions of Ralph Lauren stores in New York, Paris and Hong Kong. David Lauren, vice chairman and chief innovation officer for Ralph Lauren, stated that the virtual stores allow everyone to experience what it's like to shop at these high-end luxury locations. Lauren hopes that when stores reopen and people travel again, they’ll be more likely to visit Ralph Lauren stores in person. The brand has also teamed with Snapchat to create a series of AR experiences that users can unlock by scanning the Polo Pony logo from apparel, printed materials, digital executions, shopping bags and ads. Snapchat’s whimsical AR features offer a fresh approach for the iconic fashion brand. 

Charlotte Tilbury Offers Personalized Virtual Experiences 

At the Charlotte Tilbury virtual store, customers are escorted around the store by an avatar of Tilbury herself. The make-up and skincare brand is promoting its virtual store on the Charlotte Tilbury homepage and asking users to join its mailing list to get access to the store. The virtual Charlotte Tilbury experience is driving sales, allowing customers to virtually try on products with an AR tool and watch tutorials to achieve the brand’s 10 signature makeup looks. Virtual shoppers can receive personalized advice and product recommendations, watch live events with Tilbury and special guests, and invite friends to join video calls to shop with them, recreating the excitement and social features of shopping in the store. The Charlotte Tilbury virtual store is a continuation of the brand’s investment into new digital initiatives during the pandemic, including TikTok influencer marketing, on-site shoppable live streaming and virtual consultations

Sam’s Club Wants Everyone To Have The Hap, Hap, Happiest Holiday 

Sam’s Club partnered with Warner Bros. to create a virtual shopping experience based on National Lampoon’s holiday classic Christmas Vacation. People are seeking comfort, traditions and happy diversions this holiday season, and many return to this movie year after year for a laugh. The Sam’s Club’s virtual store is set in the Christmas Vacation home base, the Griswold household in suburban Chicago, 1989 — providing a nostalgic connection for those who love the movie and an engaging and easy shopping experience for all. 

Customers are invited to move through the virtual Sam’s Club Christmas Vacation store and purchase gifts members of the Griswold family may buy for each other. The experience can be personalized by toggling between “cozy chic” for adult gifts and “merry and bright” for kids’ gifts, and Sam’s Club will update the store throughout the season, connecting customers to sales and promotions. The wholesale retailer stated in a press release that Clark Griswold’s attempts to create the perfect holiday for his family only to be foiled again and again by forces beyond his control is like life in 2020. So they created the Sam’s Club Christmas Vacation virtual store to bring a bit of humor to their pandemic-weary customers. The company stated, “We’re here to celebrate the fact that even though nothing has gone to plan for 2020, and things continue to ‘go wrong,’ we can still, as Clark says, ‘have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas.’”

A Long History Of Holiday Magic At Macy’s Is Now Available Virtually

Shutterstock_1834978486 Oct 14, 2020 Macy's signature red bag, Christmas decoration at Macy's Mega Store at Herald Square, Manhattan, New York City.

Children could first visit Santa in a Macy’s store in 1861, and it was Macy’s that brought the holiday window to New York in 1874. Both of these events have drawn large crowds ever since, fueling holiday sales for the historic retailer and magical memories for kids and families. This year, Macy’s is shifting their holiday events online. The retailer will continue the tradition of extravagant holiday display windows, but customers do not need to travel to the big cities to see them, as the company hosted unveiling events online this year. The holiday window display at the flagship store in New York City features a “thank you” letter to first responders and essential workers with the theme “Give, Love, Believe,” connecting to an audience beyond New York who is looking for ways to honor those who made sacrifices during the pandemic. In San Francisco, the Union Square Macy’s will again partner with the SF SPCA to promote pet adoption. But this year, instead of live puppies and kittens, there will be video screens showing adoptable pets with an occasional “pop-up” adoption event onsite. 

Macy’s popular Santaland holiday experience will also move online this season and use both VR and AR to engage kids in the holiday fun. The experience has all of the popular features of the live event in years past, with the Hallmark ticket booth, a train ride to the North Pole and a visit (and selfie) with Santa. Unique to the virtual experience are interactive mini-games along the journey, allowing kids to build snowmen, make gingerbread houses and trim trees with ornaments from Macy’s brand partner Balsam Hill. Parents have to create an account to register their children for the experience and enter an email address to opt in for notifications of Macy’s holiday sales and promotions. In addition to the Santaland virtual journey to the North Pole, the interactive experience features a holiday gift guide that links to Macy’s departments and a letter to Santa feature within which Macy’s will donate a dollar to the Make-A-Wish foundation for each letter written. The all-in approach Macy’s is taking this year should broaden the brand’s holiday appeal beyond their flagship events and increase ecommerce sales at a time when brick-and-mortar foot traffic is down.

Experiential Retail And Virtual Shops May Have Staying Power Beyond The Holidays

Nostalgia for the days of merry crowds browsing colorful displays and children lining up to tell their wishes to Santa has accelerated the adoption of experiential retail. Advertisers are leaning into this nostalgia, honing their messaging and continuing traditional experiences in safer, virtual settings. But, the benefits of these shifts to virtual stores could last beyond December shopping. According to Neha Singh, the pandemic has increased brands’ interest in creating VR shopping experiences. Both Ralph Lauren and Charlotte Tilbury are planning to redesign and continue to offer access to their virtual stores after the holidays. Virtual stores – during the holidays and after – personalize the shopping experience for visitors, making it easier for consumers to discover products, get advice and make purchases that drive ecommerce sales.

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About the Author

Erin Sweeney

Erin Sweeney is a freelance writer and professional educator. Throughout her 12 years of experience in secondary education, she has taught advanced composition, business communications and research methodology. Erin has a keen interest in psychology and the science of motivation. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from Saint Anselm College and a Master’s in Education from Plymouth State University. Through research and writing, Erin contributes to DMS Insights with informative articles surrounding the digital and performance marketing industries.

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