NRF 2023 – Versed on the Metaverse: How brands and consumers are collaborating in retail’s new dimension

While research in April 2022 suggested a third of UK consumers now plan to shop in the Metaverse, most anticipate it will take around 15 years before the channel goes truly ‘mainstream’.  However,  brands and retailers are already forging ahead with their Metaverse and Web3 plays and are already seeing high levels of customer engagement and transactional sales through this new and emerging channel.

At NRF’s Retail’s Big Show in New York earlier this month, we heard from Tommy Hilfiger and NARS about how they are evolving their brand presence in retail’s next dimension and how they are collaborating with customers in the Metaverse to build experiential extensions of their brands within the digital world.  We also heard from Roblox on how they are collaborating with brands and retailers to bring their Web3 presences to life.

Shaking off the Roblox user myths

We heard from Winnie Burke, Head of Fashion & Beauty Partnerships at Roblox, who said that to better understand the platform and the opportunities it presented for new format retail, first we needed to debunk some of the myths around Roblox users.

She was keen to impress on us that the Roblox community isn’t just for kids and gamers, and there are brand opportunities beyond just gaming, despite the platform picking up a reputation for its prevalence within these two cohorts.  We hadn’t realised, for instance, that Roblox is over 16years-old, so its original first-adopters are now in their late 20s – 30s, and it’s audience is growing, with over 60million active users on the platform at the last count.  And despite the common misconception that the main demographic of Roblox is young children, over 50% of its audience is above 13 years-old, and its fastest growing demographic is those aged between 17-24 years-old.

So while it still indexes highly across Gen Z and Gen Alpha, the platform’s audience is growing up fast.

The world is ours for the making

Far from being a platform ‘just for gamers’, Winnie says Roblox is “a platform for socialisation, bringing together users digitally online through experiences that connect brands to their customers, and users to each other”.

She pointed to its recent Elton John collaboration, which saw the singer launch his “Beyond the Yellow Brick Road” immersive experience to celebrate metaverse music and creators worldwide.  So while, gaming does have a place on the platform, it certainly doesn’t define it.

“First of all it is a platform for user creation”, she said, describing how the community creates the content, meaning that there is an opportunity and a place for any brand on Roblox, as every brand – from beauty to fashion and beyond – to create a community space for Roblox users to engage and interact.

To date, Roblox has over 100billion brand activations on its platform – and it’s growing at pace as more brands test and trial their Metaverse offers.

Meeting customers where they hang out

Tommy Hilfiger first dipped it toe in the Roblox platform last year, wanting to test and learn how the community interacted with brands – it wanted to “find and meet its potential customers where they are, where they socialise and where they hang out”, its VP of Digital Product, Chris Takkenberg, told us.

Tommy Hilfiger wanted to learn from and partner with the online community on Roblox to see what their behaviours looked like on the platform, and resulted in them building Tommy Play, the Tommy Hilfiger x Roblox experience.

It takes users into a virtual world, which is a recreation and reimagination of New York City and includes three boroughs Brooklyn, The Bronx and Manhattan, where its users can experience a reimagined New York world.  Reflecting the brand’s ‘street culture’, users can have their avatars fly through the boroughs and interact with other users socially within the digital ‘city’, as well as getting involved in activities and games, such as graffiti and BMX Racing, while hanging out on the platform.  There is also an online store experience where avatar accessories and NFTs can be bought.

“By collaborating with the Roblox community, you come together to create an experience that’s both close to the brand and close to the community.  It allows customers and users of the platform to experience the brand in a completely different way and a way you simply can’t in any other channel.”

Chris Takkenberg, VP Digital Product, Tommy Hilfiger

A new look for NARS

2022 also saw beauty brand, NARS, take a leap of faith and scale its demographic reach and communication in the Metaverse, having already trialled the channel and piloted NFTs in 2021.

Knowing its audience had a very strong sense of identity and a visually-sophisticated passion for creating and experiencing new beauty looks, it launched NARS Color Quest on the Roblox platform.  Users were welcomed to a NARS inspired tropical island where they could search, try and collect new colour shades, as well as experimenting with and sharing new looks amongst the community.

Because participation was central to NARS’ success on the Roblox platform, this made it essential for the brand to have already immersed itself within the environment before jumping in, Dina Fierro, its SVP of web3/Metaverse at Shiseido Americas, which owns NARS, told us.  This meant working with the community on Roblox to create the brand experience and expression of the brand, so it became a “shared experience” and gave users “limitless” colour options to create new and expressive looks.

As well as offering a daily reward to users to keep engagement up, it also used the Metaverse platform to launch avatar make-up looks created by the NARS Global Make-Up Directors and also offered digital merchandise, which saw 19.6million redemptions of virtual goods on the platform.

Alice in Wonderland (and back again) – the blending of the ‘realverse’ and the Metaverse, and vice-versa

The desire to build digital self-expression saw 1billion avatar purchases made across the Roblox platform in the first three quarters of 2022, and this trend is also seeing customers merge their ‘realverse’ and Metaverse identities.

A survey of 1,000 Gen Z consumers by Parsons School of Design, for instance, showed two fifths now believe their digital identity is more important than their IRL (In Real Life) identity.  70% say they take inspiration from their physical lives and portray this in the Metaverse – but the same proportion, 70%, also say they take elements of their avatar’s style and translate this back into their IRL identity, as the two dimensions collide and continue to become even more intertwined.

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