The fast fashion brand Forever 21 hopped on to the metaverse bandwagon with an exclusive partnership with the Virtual Brand Group. With this business deal announcement, Forever 21 was instantly in the news in all major media reports. Let us figure out if this one was a hit or a miss!
Forever 21 Shop City is built by Virtual Brand Group on Roblox. With a net worth of $30.52 billion, Roblox is the 595th most valuable company in the world. It is an online gaming platform that has more than 230 million active players and 32.6 million daily active players. Having such a huge community of gamers, it presents opportunities in abundance on platter for brands that want to enhance their digital presence in the virtual space for the younger generation of customers.
The Forever 21 Shop City is sort of a real-life market that is planned around a virtual Forever 21 Store. The game is targeted at fashion enthusiasts, bloggers, and influencers who can create, own, and manage their own Forever 21 shops. There are two collection types meant for winter and summer styles available. Players can run their shops with real-world business-like functionalities such as inventory stocking, hiring employees, decorating their shops, addressing customers, and competing with other Forever 21 shops to become the ‘top shop’ in the metaverse. The players can also shop from the Forever 21 Store, style their avatar, and gain same Forever 21 accessories IRL.
Forever 21 was razor focused on their target audience– teenagers and early 20’s youngsters. Thus, their promotion strategy included various collaborations with digital influencers. Initially promotions were launch to give away the brand gears from the virtual space and in real life. However, it was for a short time-frame campaign.
Sam Jordan (@Builder_Boy) curated the Forever 21 Shop City fashion line in partnership with @Beeism, @OceanOrbsRBX, and @JazzyX3, who have all created exclusive items for Forever 21 Shop City. Forever 21 Shop City featured shops personally designed by influencers such as KrystinPlays, Shaylo and the Sopo Squad.
PR and Media Releases:
Apart from this, there was a heavy PR activity conducted to promote the presence in the metaverse. A cover in the major fashion magazines was featured to gain attention of the fashion and business world. This promotion strategy proved to be bang on.
As soon as I entered the Forever 21 shop city, your avatar gets is asked to pick a ready-to-customise shop and you have no idea of the location, features, etc; all shop options look identical. I just picked a random shop. I got 2000 points (Roblox money) for building the shop setting up clothing racks, furniture etc. and instructions give you an idea of how to do it but the items are priced too high to fill the shop or do much with the decore.
It is heavily promoted that Forever 21 shop city metaverse features four themed divisions- entertainment, obstacle course, food court, and yellow carpet. After running around in circles, I could only identify three areas viz shop, food court, and the yellow carpet that leads to the Forever 21 Store. I tried using different devices and joining at different time of the day, but the navigation in the metaverse was difficult.
In the game, you are expected to set up a shop, earn points to add features to your shop like exterior and interior designs, architectural themes, lights, and seating arrangements. I tried decking racks with stock from the shop builder but the clothing was not available. The instructions suggested did not work for me on any device. Since, this was the main function in the metaverse, I tried harder and I watched few videos of influencers who have built their shops. But the influencer videos are made from level 3 or above so it is difficult to explain how to reach the level where clothing is available. Also, I had to figure out how to earn the points on my own by watching multiple videos on YouTube.
When you reach the Forever 21 Store, a yellow carpet is laid out to welcome you (I guess). The Forever 21 Store is a four floor hyper-urban building with each floor dedicated to clothing, collections (Collab 21), store furniture and décor. Just outside the store entrance, there is a herd of paparazzi waiting for your pictures and cheers every time you enter or exit the Forever 21 Store in the metaverse (refer promo video). It was quite a unique element and a good add on. Inside the Store, you will find more furniture and design elements than the actual products. The Store sells furniture set-up for shops too. But this is the place where we expected Forever 21 to put more of its own products from the fashion line. Even though the mannequins are decked up in Forever 21 clothing and accessories, you get the option to buy only a few items that are in the display, not the entire look.
There are some unique and interesting elements like you can collect goodies laying on the road or just roam around the city or eating from street food vendors. I was more interested in checking out different food vendors on the roads than doing the runs between the Store and my shop. No food was served to me though. Clearly, the current experience is flawed and would need improvement in every aspect.
A Hit Or A Miss?
As per some reports, Forever 21 Shop City metaverse has had 49.4 million daily active users after a month of its launch. The Roblox game page of Forever 21 Shop City tells a different story though. It shows the game has 0 active players as of today. There were 255.4k+ visits till date in total ever since the game launched on December 14, 2021.
In the attempt to offer immersive customer experience, Forever 21 Shop City missed out on basic user-experience. The concept was interesting; however, the experience fails to be sticky. There are various flaws in the game. The brand is too pushy with putting itself out there way too much on the street, store and floor. The game plan of users creating their own shops was different but the routine execution of ‘sell apparels, manage the shop customers, and run from shop to the Forever 21 Store to collect inventory and repeat’ is all too generic and bland.
There are technical flaws in the game where your avatar might get stuck and you will have to figure out how to get out and get going. I felt, there is an opportunity for the brand to do a lot more with the metaverse given the space, time, and concept of a real market to make the experience more engaging.
The brand claims certain products became too popular in the game such as digital black beanies with the word “Forever” were a massive hit on the virtual world platform. It sold about 2,000 units a day at 50 cents each, and is on track to sell 1.5 million units by the end of this year. The cost to create them however, was less than $500 total.
Virtual Brand Group makes a number of claims on its website about Forever 21 brand presence, community, and sales. However, these claims are to be verified.
In my honest opinion, Forever 21 has a long way to go in the metaverse to achieve what they have envisioned in terms of engagement and conversion. The brand could have achieved the current short term benefits in a much lesser cost just by selling NFTs or add-ons with other game collaborations. By venturing into a dedicated gamified fashion retail metaverse, they over-complicated things for themselves.
I think the brand realises this and that is why they launched a digital store for wearables (a collection of NFTs only) in the Decentraland and threw a massive launch party on March 27, 2022.