Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why retail brands need to maximise their use of avatars

David Ripert, CEO and co-founder of Poplar Studio and Chapter President of the UK VR/AR Association

A few years ago, for the majority of consumers the word ‘Avatar’ related solely to a blockbuster sci-fi film. Today, avatars have started to become part of our daily lives – especially on social platforms or video games such as Snapchat and Roblox, where bitmojis are being utilised by some of the world’s leading brands to target new audiences and generate record sales numbers. Brands are advertising and selling their products where their audience spend most of their time – digitally in the metaverse.

The main benefit of avatars for ecommerce is that consumers no longer need to leave the comfort of their homes to find the perfect fit or item that they are looking for. The tech enables users to get their avatar to virtually wear an item or piece of clothing using the direct-to-avatar (D2A) model.  D2A products are sold exclusively in a digital or virtual space, most commonly through social media or games where a consumer is given the opportunity to express their digital self creatively through avatars and ‘skins’. So what are the other benefits of introducing avatars to the retail industry en masse?

Make use of avatars for branded content 

Avatars exist because people like having a digital representation of themselves. Consumers are drawn to content that can be customised. Brands have a fantastic opportunity to help users personalise their avatars through branded content- think exclusive sneakers, clothing, jewellery, etc. This kind of customisable content has been utilised successfully by brands for a number of years. Louis Vuitton and Nike are excellent examples of how consumers are drawn to personalised products, and the growth of this model is continuing to elevate into the digital age through avatars. Taking the Nike example listed above – consumers were able to purchase a pair of Nike shoes and put their own stamp on it by customizing color, design and performance features, to really identify that the product was designed by themselves and was unique to them. The feeling this gave was a sense of pride and the FOMO created off the back of this simple customisable feature carried Nike further into mainstream consumerism.

The success doesn’t just sit within brand awareness and exclusivity though, financial and environmental gains are also achievable thanks to the development and improvement of technology. Hyper accurate avatars have proven to reduce the level of product returns at the high end stores that support the tech (YOOX, Net-A-Porter Group and Grosier, among others) by up to 70%. These avatars and the development of the technology is only possible due to the evolving and creative world enabled by advancing 3D technology.

From wine bottles where Snoop Dogg talks to you, to Maybelline’s #LiftMyMood campaign that allowed users to remove their eyebrows virtually and try the perfect shade / shape to pair with Maybelline’s range – augmented retail is ever present and continues to be a stepping stone for consumers to use prior to purchase.

Avatars supporting path to purchase in key industries

It is important for brands to try to live where consumers are spending more time, and when it comes to younger generations, that includes gaming and virtual worlds. Fortnite is hugely popular right now, and musicians have launched their own virtual concerts there. Arianna Grande, Travis Scott and Disney have hosted large global scale events watched by millions and, as a result, IP holders have launched their own branded “skins” that players can use. 

Partnerships between retail brands and digital platforms is something that, whilst no longer new, will be a continuing trend for the future. 

The future for avatars in the retail industry 

In the near future, we will be able to access consumer friendly technology that will enable us to create a perfect digital replica of ourselves. As technology continues to develop, the hyper realism of avatars will steadily improve to the point where you will be able to see a person in real life, put on smart glasses and see the person in a completely different outfit, or holding an item that will look totally real. 

For brands, hyper realistic avatars are everything. The avatars of the future will enable brands to empower customers to make better purchasing decisions by being able to see their avatars trying on products. This transition to the new digital platforms will essentially be a ‘try before you buy’ business model – by adopting a less of a ‘forced sales’ approach.