Keeping it IRL: Why the metaverse will never replace bricks and mortar fashion stores

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As various fashion weeks kick off around the globe, the impacts of COVID-19 are still being felt in the industry. 

Usually, a very flashy affair, the Fall/Winter 2022 show schedule was filled with noticeable gaps, with some brands even choosing to host their show in the metaverse.

Dion Lee was the only Australian designer to show at NY fashion week, while many major international names including Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford and Oscar de la Renta were absent from the schedule.

But with Dion Lee’s presence in NYC acting as a rallying cry for the Australian fashion industry to get back to normal, many brands are still struggling under the weight of uncertainty and fear.

Several fashion retailers have reduced or completely closed their physical stores and embraced a fully online experience, while others have faced ongoing financial issues and a crisis of confidence as a result of the pandemic. 

With the metaverse being touted as the hot new shopping centre on the block, here’s the case for why fashion retailers should back their brand by investing in the bricks and mortar in-store store experience.

Why window shopping will never cease

Excluding groceries, three in four Australians (75 per cent) shop online. In August 2021, online sales made up 15 per cent of all retail spending – a relatively big jump from 7.1 per cent in March 2020 prior to the pandemic. However, while online shopping is clearly thriving, now that we’re learning to live with the virus, we’ve realised just how much we’ve missed trying on that dress IRL. 

Outside of strict lockdowns, Australian shopping centres have come back with a bang. Whether it’s browsing and window shopping or picking up an item in a store after doing all the research online, consumers are embracing the in-person shopping experience. 

As the AFR’s Lauren Sams describes so well in her article, Why real-life shopping will always trump the metaverse: “For all the talk of the metaverse, and for all the convenience and ease of online shopping, there is still something beguiling and alluring about the in-store experience. I know the way I feel when I walk into my favourite boutiques, the way the salespeople know me by name, the way they can select garments they know I will love (they know my size, too). It’s special.”

The psychology of the in-person shopping experience, from discovery to the instant gratification of purchasing an item right then and there, simply can’t be replaced by the online experience – no matter how hard Mark Zuckerberg would like it to. 

Clothing, especially in higher-end and luxury stores, is all about small, particular details that you can only really experience in person. No matter how advanced augmented reality becomes, it’s never going to replicate the feeling of the fabric, or the feel of a garment as it hangs perfectly (or imperfectly) on your body. 

When online shopping grows stale

Millennials grew up spending hours trudging around the shopping centre with friends at the weekend, so when online shopping became a viable way to buy clothes, we embraced it with open arms. 

For gen z and the rapidly growing gen alpha, however, online shopping has always been an option. For them, online shopping is the default option, making the in-person shopping experience more unique, special, and exciting. 

No matter what generation you fall under, once online shopping becomes the norm, it loses its thrill. According to a white paper released by Brookfield Properties, A-rated fashion retailers continue to outperform digital channels when it comes to conversion to purchase rates – sitting around 20 per cent for prime physical retail as opposed to e-commerce’s measly three per cent. 

Plus, once you factor in the rapidly rising costs to acquire consumers digitally through marketing and advertising spend, physical retail starts to look a lot more cost-efficient than it would first appear. 

Brands that have gone all-in on their online stores are missing out on a chance to close more sales, build a stronger brand association, and give their customers a great all-around experience. It’s high time retailers regained their confidence in fashion’s in-person allure. 

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