Constrained by Covid-19 restrictions in bricks-and-mortar, beauty retailers all around the globe have hit the accelerator on virtual experiences this year. And while some retailers, like Harrod’s H Beauty and MAC, have introduced virtual experiences to compensate for the lack of testing in stores, cult British cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury has gone a step further, creating a completely virtual online store. “We have always been a digital-first brand; it’s at the heart of everything w
hing we do, so by launching this virtual store, we are truly operating as an omnichannel business and offering our customers an immersive, 360-degree experience, whenever and wherever they come into contact with the brand,” said brand founder Charlotte Tilbury. The virtual Beauty Secrets store at CharlotteTilbury.com has been built by Obsess, a New York agency that uses virtual and augmented reality to digitise retail stores and showrooms to create realistic, immersive online shops. Obsess has created fully shoppable virtual store experiences for leading retailers such as Coach, Charlotte Tilbury, Diesel, Party City, Sam’s Club and Tommy Hilfiger, and in October, it closed a seed funding round, bringing its total funding to US$3.4 million. Neha Singh, founder and CEO of Obsess, told Inside Retail that her agency has seen unprecedented demand from retailers this year. “This year, we have seen a 400 per cent increase in inbound inquiries from brands and retailers, compared to last year,” Singh said. “We have expanded into retail segments beyond fashion and beauty to telecom and big-box retailers. We’ve released more than 30 virtual stores in just the last few months.” Singh said that up until last year, the majority of inquiries came from brand innovation teams for AR/VR experiences, but this year, retail, marketing, digital, CRM and wholesale teams from retailers are getting in touch about virtual stores. “That can be to make their in-store experience shoppable online or to create completely conceptual environments not restricted to what the brand has built in the physical world. We are also seeing the trend that brands want to make virtual stores a permanent part of their e-commerce site and keep refreshing with new products and visuals every season,” she said. “As brands are realising that their .com is their new flagship, virtual stores are enabling them to bring this to life.” ‘Beauty wonderland’ The Charlotte Tilbury project was developed over the course of two months with the Charlotte Tilbury team designing the space and Obsess setting up the whole virtual store experience on their platform. “The inspiration for this virtual store came through the Charlotte Tilbury team to create a Beauty Wonderland that reveals Charlotte’s Beauty Secrets. The 3D virtual gift shop’s design was inspired by the pop-ups in the brand’s retail stores but more conceptualised in the virtual environment,” Singh said. When consumers log on to the Charlotte Tilbury virtual store, they are immersed in a three-dimensional shopping worl,d with an avatar of Charlotte Tilbury herself guiding them through the store. An avatar of Charlotte Tilbury guides customers through the store. Image: Supplied. Customers can explore various beauty looks, shop products, schedule personalised consultations and receive product recommendations, with translation available to their local language. The store also allows customers to join live events with Tilbury and special guests, watch makeup and skincare tutorials, and supports video calls between friends for group shopping occasions. “This makes online shopping not only more personal but also more human,” Singh said. “It is a truly personal and social experience.” The high level of personalisation mimics the experience of chatting with a consultant in store, while foot traffic in physical stores remains lower in many regions. These personalised virtual journeys of discovery have been demonstrated to drive engagement, clickthrough, session duration, average order value and conversion for leading retailers. “We are very proud of how this is a fully e-commerce integrated store that has direct cart integration so everything works seamlessly for the users,” Singh said. “When you click on the product, we are fetching all the product data real-time with API integrations. And for the product features, you can see it has colour selectors, product details and videos, and when you switch the colours the product videos change as well – so you can see everything is very dynamic.” Connecting with new markets While the Charlotte Tilbury team did not respond to Inside Retail’s questions regarding any future expansion plans for the APAC region, it is likely that the virtual store will help the brand connect with consumers in markets like Australia, New Zealand and many parts of Asia where the brand does not have an in-store presence. Thanks to the e-commerce site and availability through Net-A-Porter, beauty lovers are already very familiar with the range. The day after the launch of the brand’s Push Up Lashes in August, the product was purchased every 15 seconds around the world. Given the isolation endured by consumers globally this year, Singh said it’s more important than ever for brands to rethink the way they interact with their customers.