“Versed on the Metaverse,” a lively session at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, looked at the growing importance of virtual reality, both as a marketplace and a communications medium. The discussion was moderated by Jill Manoff, editor-in-chief of fashion and luxury daily Glossy. She was joined by Winnie Burke, head of fashion and beauty partnerships with Roblox; Chris Takkenberg, vice president digital product for Tommy Hilfiger; and Dina Fierro, senior vice president, Web 3/metaverse group at Shiseido.
Manoff began by saying that one of the purposes of the session was to debunk what she referred to as “some myths” about Roblox and how brands can use it. Kids are using it, but what’s the opportunity for “non-kids’ brands”?
Roblox currently has about 60 million daily active users, Burke said. The platform is 16 years old, and its demographic is constantly evolving. “We have become well-known as a kids’ platform, but more than half our audience is 13 or older. For the past 15 months, the 17- to 24-year-old group has been our fastest-growing demographic.”
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The Tommy Hilfiger Virtual Fashion Show, held in March of last year in Roblox, offered a version of New York City — avatars tall enough to sit on the roofs of buildings, for example — only possible with virtual reality. It also offered a virtual store where people could try new clothes on their avatars.
Noting that Tommy Hilfiger is well known as an innovative brand, Takkenberg said, “We look for our customers where they socialize and spend time. Roblox presented a really good opportunity to partner with its community and learn from them.”
His comment was echoed by Fierro, who said, “2021 was a year of experimentation. For 2022, we were looking for the opportunity to create a bespoke, highly creative, visually compelling world. We looked at a lot of metaverse platforms that didn’t have that, and Roblox did.”
The Roblox user community, she added, is passionate and opinionated. Users helped shape not only her expectations of a first-time gameplay experience and its mechanics, but her understanding of general world-building and digital design. “No one understands the community better than creators in the platform,” she said.
“We see a big learning curve,” Burke said. “Our role is really brand education — operator support, strategic support as needed. But in the end, you’re really collaborating to come up with a presentation of your brand that resonates with that community. They’re the experts.”
The panel agreed that virtual reality can be — and is growing to be — both global and local. As noted, the Tommy Hilfiger spring show offered “augmented reality” — avatars the size of buildings in the middle of Manhattan. It also offered reverse-reality shopping: The live Hilfiger show was streamed back into the metaverse, offering avatars the opportunity to buy new clothes for their owners. For the Mexican festival Día de los Muertos, Tommy Hilfiger opened a pop-up store in Mexico City and mimicked it in Roblox. “We were able to launch a limited item really targeted at that cultural moment,” Takkenberg said.
Fierro said Shiseido was one of the first to bring an avatar makeup look to Roblox, created by its global artistic director. The activity is not divorced from the company’s overall needs and strategy: A “virtual worldwide campaign” launched around an island theme was accompanied by a virtual resort wardrobe for avatars that brought in $19.6 million in limited goods sales.
“It makes a case that virtual goods present a very compelling opportunity for real-world brands in the near future,” she said.