As we have slowed down to take shelter, and to help continue to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have seen, as the days have passed, the devastating effect lock down and social distancing are having on our beloved retail industry.
Although its heart-breaking to see – what it has allowed for is unprecedented creativity and imagination within our creative communities, our retail brands as well as within our own team and industry colleagues.
As consumer habits change during lockdown, we have seen brands pivot and embrace this new temporary digital world we are faced with. From online creative competitions, daily content to promoting staying at home and self-care, to virtual shopping experiences, the content is rich, varied and constant. When we are allowed back on to the streets and into our stores, what will remain from this Covid-19 digital influx?
When looking at what trends have been surfacing during this pandemic, we have identified two threads – “Virtual Merchandising”, focusing on areas such as augmented product, digital storytelling, gaming and music integration and “Re-United Communities”, centred around well- being promotion, community generated content and at home creative improvisation.
Within “Virtual Merchandising” we have seen virtual fashion come into its own. For example, Drest, a new gaming app, invites users to dress photorealistic avatars through styling challenges, participants can then buy the garments they have used online on Farfetch. In its base form, it’s essentially an online shopping experience yet it promotes creativity, interaction and engagement with the brand beyond what we normally see with typical online shopping. As press days, fashion shows and buyers’ exhibitions are postponed, AR and VR are playing a vital role in bringing collections to consumers in an engaging way. Virtual showrooms stock product displayed in beautiful rooms with all the detail needed about each piece available at the click of a button. Rather than a simple portfolio of product, the VR experience promotes exploration and real engagement with each collection without having to leave your sofa.
Moe Krimat, Seen Displays Strategic Creative director notes, “As we move out of Covid we anticipate this rich virtual world merging with the physical world to keep this element of digital intrigue and enhancement thriving. This is reminiscent of our recent Creatures project with Alexander McQueen in Dubai, using AR to bring to life static product to add that extra level of engagement and long-lasting take-home content for consumers.”
We have also seen brands take on gaming during this digital evolution. For example, Karl Lagerfeld launched its Pac-man inspired game where top scores meant IRL prizes and Burberry launched its first online game called B Bounce. This gaming angle promotes entertainment and the need for engagement and interaction with the brand beyond the “shopping”. As we turn to our mobile devices and computers for interactive and mentally challenging entertainment during this time, what we need to then focus on is building digital landscapes with our consumers which we can carry through to offline retail displays in the future. Essentially, as we gain our audience’s attention on social media now, we then need to harness these platforms for interactive storytelling to create supportive and entertaining content beyond the physical purchase in the future.
When it comes to “Re-United Communities” the biggest positive shift we have seen is the championing and hero-ing of local creatives and content makers. From Alexander McQueen and Kurt Geiger encouraging consumers to sketch their own designs to Converse and their Creative at Home campaign calling for all kinds of creative content from videos, to sketches, to designs and music, the input from their customers is encouraged and more than that needed. To solidify this brand and consumer relationship piece, we have seen brands create helpful templates or How To’s to help consumer create at home and eventually feed into the brands social stream. For example, Nike Inc launched Play Inside, Play For The World promoting at home sport and exercise and on a softer tone GQ Magazine created a series showcasing tips on how to look your best on the never ending video calls we are all on.
Covid-19 also seems to have melted barriers between brands and we have seen collaborations promoting wellness and support for affected communities. For example, Crosstown Donuts joined forces with local bakeries to create care packages for the elderly featuring key ingredients such as milk, eggs and flour. Of course, many brands have pivoted and responded with giveaways to help the people who need it most during the pandemic with Kurt Geiger giving away vouchers to NHS workers, Joe Wicks donating all his online PE class revenue to the NHS and brands such as Barbour, Nike Inc and Louis Vuitton dedicating their factories to creating PPE equipment.
As we move out of the effects of Covid, and we will move out of it, we will see that consumers will base more emphasis on their physical and mental wellbeing and brands should look to continue their advice, support and focus on “the good” in order to maintain and grow their community. From previous discussions and studies with our Gen Z collective we already know that consumers have been craving brands with integrity, Dom Borghino, a 21 year old Law student from our collective, says “They’re [brands] selling a product, they’re selling themselves, that’s why they exist. So, I think if they’re not being responsible with that kind of goal, that can be really dangerous”.
We also need to be careful to not forget the efforts creative communities went to during lockdown to create content using their most loved products for brands to use as part of their digital evolution. These relationships should be continued both online and in the physical, celebrating the content they created in lockdown and continuing to promote the creation of it as we move out of it. This can only strengthen brand loyalty – consumers were there for their most loved brands during lockdown, and now the brands are there for them as we come out of it.
At the time of writing the UK is in week 5 of lockdown. As the days continue, we will continue to evolve and develop alongside our brand partners and monitor how “Virtual Merchandising” and “Re-United Communities” are developing. As we continue to analyse consumers’ reaction to the plethora of content released on a daily basis, we’ll be providing clear human-centric strategies to meet the drivers behind consumer behaviour shifts for the upcoming year.