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Is the future of retail virtual?

As the saying goes, you’ve got to be in it to win it. That certainly seems to be the prevailing logic at the moment when it comes to retailers foraying into the VR and AR worlds. Accelerated by the pandemic, retailers are now embracing ideas that would have seemed ridiculous just a few years ago. But will they last post-COVID? Read on to learn our thoughts as we take a look at some of the latest – and most interesting – VR and AR feats retailers have pulled off recently.


When we think Burberry, we think class. Trench coats, umbrellas, handbags, silk scarves and dresses…you get the idea. An Animal Crossing-style video game, not so much. Yet that’s exactly how Burberry has chosen to release three of its latest collections, with online games.

First there was B Bounce, where players could ride a deer-shaped character to the moon. Next there was Ratberry (pictured just above), inspired by the Year of the Rat, where the aim of the game was to bounce a cute rat-character to the top of an endless series of platforms, collecting gold along the way. And most recently there’s B Surf (top image), where you can race your friends on a surfboard – dressed in the latest Burberry gear, of course – along a twisting, crystal clear canal. Weird, yes. Popular, yes. A sign of more to come? Almost definitely.

Louis Vuitton

If you’re not a gamer, you may have never heard of ‘loot boxes’. According to Wiki, Loot boxes are “consumable virtual items which can be redeemed to receive a randomised selection of further virtual items, or loot, ranging from simple customisation options for a player’s avatar to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armour.” And people pay real, actual money for loot boxes – so much so that spending on gaming loot boxes and skins worldwide is predicted to hit $50 billion (USD) by 2022. Just let that sink in.

With all of that in mind, Louis Vuitton’s custom digital assets for last year’s League of Legends World Championship make perfect sense, at least financially. Makes us think of a great Russel Howcroft quote from a Gruen episode years back – “You build the brand to exploit the brand.” Seems that’s exactly what Louis Vuitton was doing, and will likely continue doing in the future.


We’ve all been there. You find the perfect piece of furniture at your local IKEA and you have to have it. You cram its many flatpacked components into the back of your car and drive home all excited…only to realise it doesn’t fit in your room. But IKEA has found a solution, saving you a lot of heartache and themselves a bunch of returns, no doubt.

IKEA’s Place app may have been around for a few years now, but it just keeps getting better and better, with the Swedish superstore claiming 98% accuracy, plus true-to-life representations of textures and fabrics. The best bit is that the furniture in the app doesn’t require any assembly.


With athleisure sales up due to COVID-19, US department store chain Kohl’s partnered with Snapchat back in May to encourage its younger, Snapchat-using customers to shop for comfy ‘working from home’ clothes without leaving the app (or their home). With teens picking Snapchat as their most favoured social media platform in a recent report (TikTok came in second, Instagram third), Kohl’s decision makes perfect sense.


Sorting the ideal back-to-school outfit is a rite of passage for American teens. But thanks to social distancing rules, the typical trip to the mall was always going to be different this year.

To help teens recreate the experience of shopping together, Levi’s has collaborated with screensharing app Squad. Not only can friends have fun swapping thoughts on the items and looks that suit them best, Levi’s will also offer free advice from its stylists on the latest fashion trends and styling tips. 

Our thoughts

It’s hard to think of too many genuinely useful innovations that disappear quickly. For example, businesses still uses faxes and hospitals still use pagers, even though far superior technology has existed for decades now.

While some of the above innovations seem a bit gimmicky, we believe anything that offers customers genuine value in the form of a better shopping or brand experience is sure to be appreciated and last the test of time – and both VR and AR can do just that. So is the future of retail virtual? Yes, partly.


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