When it comes to the metaverse, Gucci is not playing around. The 101-year-old brand best known for its high-priced handbags is staking a serious claim in the immersive, online worlds that are quickly becoming a hot spot for retail sales. Gucci Town, the brand’s permanent presence on Roblox, threw open its virtual doors to avatar fans in May and racked up more than 34.6 million visitors in a matter of months. Features include Gucci-inspired games, a showcase for the latest product drops and collaborations, and limited edition and archive-inspired virtual accessories available for purchase. In August, Miley Cyrus joined Gucci Town as the brand’s first celebrity avatar persona, a move that underscores Gucci’s digital playground isn’t going anywhere.
16th Most Influential Project of 2022
Ecommerce, it’s often lamented, has ushered in the slow death of the shopping mall. Well, not if Emirates developer Majid Al Futtaim has anything to say about it—joining forces with U.S. tech giant Cisco to create a new kind of brick-and-mortar retail space. Staking out a prime spot at Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, Store of the Future opened in January, awash in next-gen sensors, cameras and AI tech, welcoming each guest and collecting data throughout their journey to respond with customized recommendations and interactions. And to make sure those experiences never feel stale, the developer shares data with the rotating band of brands occupying the space—offering insights on everything from dwell times and footfall heatmaps to sentiment analysis and store capacity.
31st Most Influential Project of 2022
Shortly after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Brother Vellies founder Aurora James called on major retailers to devote 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. The Fifteen Percent Pledge took hold almost instantly and has so far redirected an estimated US$10 billion in retail revenue to Black-owned businesses. In November 2021, Google and the Fifteen Percent Pledge rolled out a new initiative to continue that momentum: The Business Equity Community offers Black-owned brands a structured way to scale their business through free digital training, tools and in-person events. They’re also added to a 1,500-member searchable database. Doubling down on the early call to action isn’t just a feel-good move on the part of retailers—it’s fast becoming a business imperative to reach the quickly rising segment of “inclusive consumer,” which McKinsey estimates to be well over 100 million people in the United States alone.
The worldwide secondhand apparel market hit US$96 billion last year and is expected to more than double by 2026, per GlobalData. What’s fueling all that spend? Gen Z shoppers advocating for sustainable consumption—while simultaneously glued to their fashion-filled social media accounts. Looking to satisfy both surging trends: Galaxy, heralded as the first fashion resale marketplace powered by live video. Rather than invite users to post static images of garments, Galaxy was built for sellers to show their clothes in action—just as an influencer would. And several internet-famous TikTokkers and YouTubers have already gotten into the Galaxy act, even making appearances at the platform’s “closet cleanout” pop-ups. All the while, every swipe, scroll and sale is harvested by Galaxy’s algorithms, which use machine learning to fine-tune which retail-meets-entertainment videos a user will be served in the future. Since its launch last year, Galaxy has quickly taken off with young consumers, and with a US$7 million funding round in July (that pulled in Snapchat parent company Snap Inc.), the platform seems poised to rocket into the stratosphere.
Self-checkout is now decidedly mainstream, but customer frustration over hard-to-scan barcodes still dooms some purchases to last-minute abandonment. While some tech firms are pressing for full-store scanning that eliminates checkout entirely, that’s an impossible upgrade for the vast majority of retailers. One alternative? Mashgin’s Touchless Checkout System that uses visual automation and machine learning to make checkout as simple as setting items on a scanner, then settling the bill—without all that pesky barcode-hunting. The system’s nine 3D scanner cameras automatically identify and ring up each item from any angle. After a two-year pilot at nearly 500 stores across Sweden and the United States, Mashgin and convenience retail giant Alimentation Couche-Tarde launched a project in June to roll out roughly 10,000 kiosks at Circle K and Couche-Tard stores over the next three years.
Supply chain snarls have threatened retailers around the world since the pandemic began. But in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of retail transactions happen in small, informal settings, keeping shelves stocked can be time-consuming at best, impossible at worst. In June, South African fintech Nomanini rolled out its StockNow app, which connects micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses to goods distributors with a few simple clicks, for first-ever digital ordering. The app first went live in Tanzania with partner Nestlé ESAR and will be rolled out to thousands of informal retailers in the country by year’s end. And plans are already underway to scale across the continent.
Immersive experiences are now the lifeblood of retail-consumer relationships, but storied jewelry brand Tiffany & Co. took things to the next level with Vision and Virtuosity, a two-month exhibit launched in June at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The team displayed more than 400 objects from the Tiffany archive and let consumers use augmented reality to “try on” certain pieces, including a 128.54-carat diamond worn by Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga. Elsewhere, visitors could take a break from browsing the brand’s most popular engagement rings to write and send digital notes to loved ones on a massive interactive screen. Modern collabs—including Daniel Arsham-designed hoodies in iconic Tiffany Blue, Quartersnacks skateboards, Mellow Gemini vases and Caran d’Ache pen sets—put a future-facing spin on the 185-year-old brand and offered shopping opportunities far more interesting than the standard museum souvenirs.
E-commerce fraud jumped 18 percent last year, topping US$20 billion, according to market research firm Juniper. But as retailers strengthen their ramparts against identity theft, they also risk introducing more sales-killing friction into the checkout process—a paradox that poses a major threat to retailers’ bottom lines. In February, fraud-prevention tech company Forter rolled out its latest offering, Smart Payments, a software that uses machine learning to assess an online shopper’s identity trustworthiness in real time. Authenticated shoppers can proceed without providing additional security details, while others face a higher bar for proving identity and making the purchase. The result? Retailers maintain that delicate balance of sales and security.
Most rewards on airline credit cards aren’t earned through travel, but through on-the-ground purchases at retailers and restaurants. Store purchases also make up a sizable portion of how points and rewards are spent, often through an airline shopping portal. Hong Kong’s Divit upended that convoluted system with a mobile app that allows shoppers to pay with instant money transfers, rather than credit, and still earn miles. That means any merchant that joins the platform can cater to rewards-minded shoppers, without needing to pay credit card processing fees. And shoppers can easily redeem miles directly with retailers or, yes, with airlines for travel. Rolled out to Hong Kong shoppers in June, the platform is expected to expand to Australian retailers later this year.
Most retailers hunt high and low for a spokesperson who captures the face and spirit of their brand. Olaplex decided to build its own. As part of a project with Tangent.Ai, the prestige hair care brand combined the images and voices of 240 brand advocates and employees into one composite character. The virtual staffer is named Kai (a name voted on by the brand’s Instagram followers, of course) and uses the pronouns she/he/they. So far Kai has only been used to make brand announcements and share information on existing products, but Olaplex plans to have its virtual team member engage in customer service soon.