The virtual bandwagon was more like a clown car this year, with everyone from Walmart to PacSun delving into the metaverse.
It makes sense: E-commerce is the biggest economic factor driving the growth of a market that research consulting firm McKinsey valued at $5 trillion, and Web3 shopping as a $2.6 trillion opportunity. With more than 400 million users of virtual worlds, according to metaverse consulting company Metaversed, brands are cashing in on the brave new world wide web. And even though NFTs have lost some of their luster, luxury houses are still chasing the $22 million-in-one-day-high Adidas achieved late last year.
“Regarding the metaverse, if you cut through the hype, know one thing—it will be a shopping medium,” the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Chris Bruderle, vice president of research and insights, said. “As Web3 adoption continues to accelerate, we will increasingly see more brands create storefronts across the metaverse. The old adage, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ will ring true for this burgeoning category.”
Here are some of the biggest moves in the virtual world from 2022.
Adidas brought its Ozworld sneakers to the virtual universe in April thanks to a “landmark partnership” with avatar creation platform Ready Player Me. The digital experience used a custom personality quiz to generate interoperable avatars across more than 1,500 games and apps. These alter egos can digitally try on sneakers from the Ozworld collection before (ideally) purchasing. Though Ready Player Me usually builds its avatars from user-submitted selfies, its partnership with Adidas will see it create characters based on how participants respond to a series of questions, including one that asks for their favorite Ozworld footwear silhouette. The platform then translates this information into a unique avatar that “takes aesthetic inspiration from the collection’s dynamic visual codes.”
E-commerce giant Alibaba celebrated the fifth anniversary of its Tmall Luxury Pavilion with efforts to bring shoppers into the metaverse in October. Tmall used the event to introduce “Meta Pass,” which gives shoppers priority access to products within the digital landscape. Blockchain-certified warrants can be purchased by pass holders and exchanged for limited-edition items. Exclusive goods like a Max Mara fall 2022 oversize sweater, Burberry’s Lola bag, and Marni fleece-lined Pablo sneakers were available to participants.
The 3D virtual world browser-based platform Decentraland hosted the first Metaverse Fashion Week in March, with more than 60 luxury and digital brands bringing presentations, concerts and after-parties to the virtual world. Brands could virtually present their spring 2022 collections in various “neighborhoods” on the platform’s Fashion District. Tommy Hilfiger invited guests to teleport their avatar to its virtual store to shop floating 3D renderings of limited-edition products from its spring collection, which can be purchased as NFTs and redeemed for physical products. Mango presented three NFTs co-created with crypto artist Luis “Lajos” Arregui Henk, known as Farkas, and the Spanish retailer’s own technology and 3D product design teams.
H&M’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn boutique is the retailer’s latest launch into metaverse fashion. A curated preview sample of the chain’s latest Innovation Design Story collection opened earlier this month, with the entire collection to be on display at the H&M location in Times Square and online. The lineup trips into the metaverse with the help of the H&M app, where five augmented reality filters are available, completing the Innovation Metaverse Design Story. Created in partnership with the Institute of Digital Fashion, AR fashion lenses powered by Snapchat enables virtual try-on, bringing the physical and digital worlds together and empowering customers to express themselves both IRL and URL.
Nike unveiled its first sneaker NFT in April, four months after acquiring virtual fashion startup RTFKT. Unlike other brands, which have sold off specific numbers of non-fungible tokens at a set price, Nike’s first NFT was gifted to anyone who owned one of RTFKT’s CloneX avatars, an NFT collection it released in November, before Nike acquired it. Owners of the token can “burn” it—an action that removes the NFT from circulation—in exchange for a neutral RTFKT x Nike Dunk Genesis Cryptokick, an “Evo X Skin Vial” and a new MNLTH box. Earlier this month, the Web3 fashion startup created a limited-time raffle for sneakerheads in hopes of being able to buy the first virtual shoe of its kind in the form of an NFT to be redeemed for a pair of Nike Cryptokicks iRL sneakers in real life. The state-of-the-art RTFKT kicks that connect to users’ smartphones are available for the blockchain price of 0.34 ETH, translating to roughly $417. Deemed the first shoe to merge the digital and physical worlds, the sneaker and its corresponding NFT are limited to 19,000 models to be constructed in each reality. But to enter the raffle and be chosen in the “private mint selection,” entrants must have a cryptocurrency wallet supported by WalletConnect with at least .5 ETH ($625) and a U.S. shipping address—which could seem to some to be a marketing scheme for the open-source protocol platform.
The Anaheim, Calif.-based retailer has spent the year banking on its theory that the metaverse is the future as PacSun continued to expand its virtual footprint. Last year, the brand announced it was partnering with metaverse platform company Roblox Corp for Pacworld, its first dedicated experience on the teen-centric platform, launching into the space with a PacSun-branded T-shirt and tie-dye sweatpants for players. Earlier this year, it launched a PacSun video game, “PacSun the Game,” with the PacSun fantasy mall concept and virtual boutique, “PS Reserve,” featured in the multiday virtual festival Complexland held in May.
As for NFTs, PacSun sold its first, a .gif of its wave logo, in December 2021 for the equivalent of $776 and relied on that momentum to release the first of its Mall Rat series in January. Each Mall Rat reflects a PacSun store with the background of the NFT a reference to that store’s location, such as a cityscape for downtown Los Angeles and palm trees for Santa Monica. Three hundred one-of-one NFTs were released, coming with a one-of-a-kind physical shirt as well. PacSun released even more in March, though only two of the 14 Pac Mall Rats received a single bid. Despite little interest, the specialty retailer continued to invest in the space, rolling out a new Pac Mall Rat NFT “denim mini-series with unlockable content” in connection to its July #MyDenimStory campaign.
“Brands have two options when it comes to entering the metaverse and NFT space—to wait and see or lead the way,” Pacsun president Brie Olson previously told Sourcing Journal. “Both have risks. PacSun has decided to lead, as we are committed to PacSun’s cultural DNA centered around innovation and creativity, which in our opinion, mitigates the risk of testing and exploring unproven concepts.”
The youth retailer’s holiday campaign, “PacVerse,” tapped TikTok stars Brooke Monk and Mathieu Simoneau, along with dancer Brynn Rumfallo and stunt performer Hero DW, for its “Welcome to the PacVerse” video, where they enter the metaverse created by PacSun using a VR headset, exploring environments including an ice-covered area and futuristic airport terminal.
“PacVerse serves as a full funnel medium across our virtual and physical worlds that helps to enhance brand value and consumer experience. Our audience is the first generation to blend their digital and physical identities as a natural part of their lives, and the PacVerse theme is a celebration of their self-expression, reflecting those identities and the unique sense of shared community they find in both,” Olson said. “Virtual brand worlds are an important part of the future, and part of what is so exciting about these immersive virtual concepts is that the discovery for our consumer is both fluid and the creativity has no boundaries.”
In September, Retail giant Walmart entered the metaverse in collaboration with Roblox, launching two interactive experiences within the platform: Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play. Both experiences are geared toward the Gen Z demographic, with Walmart Land focused on bringing the best of fashion, style, beauty and entertainment items directly to Roblox’s global community of 52 million daily users. Walmart’s Universe of Play is what the retailer described as “the ultimate virtual toy destination in Roblox.” Through Walmart’s Universe of Play, the Roblox community can explore different toy worlds to earn coins for virtual goods, or complete challenges to build a personal trophy case, unlock secret codes and more.
Modern furniture and home décor retailer West Elm teamed with Roblox in October to launch its own virtual world, West Elm Home Design. As the first major specialty home retailer to premiere on Roblox, its debut into the metaverse offers a virtual experience with high-fidelity design and photorealism. The West Elm Home Design experience includes the West Elm Hub, which features a furniture store, coffee shop and merchandise boutique, and the West Elm Neighborhood, where users can customize their homes with over 150 virtual products neatly identical to their physical counterparts.
Wrangler stepped into the metaverse with an exclusive NFT and physical offering made in collaboration with Grammy award-winning artist Leon Bridges in February. The Kontoor Brands-owned heritage brand debuted a two-part NFT drop dubbed “Mr. Wrangler” that centered on a denim suit specially designed for Bridges. Its “Mr. Wrangler Legendary” NFT went for 1.947 ETH in September, approximately $2,609. The NFT was the second and final drop in the “Mr. Wrangler” collection, unveiled during a Fashion Week presentation in Brooklyn, New York.