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In the front row of Topshop’s virtual catwalk

New retail solutions are being sought right across the high street in a bid to engage with consumers and find a way to resuscitate the buying experience. Topshop has been showing off one such idea at London Fashion Week. Mark Broughton, strategy and planning partner at integrated agency LIFE went along to see what all the fuss was about.

Innovative. Relevant. Novel. Three pretty positive words to summarise the London Fashion Week 360-degree virtual experience in Topshop’s flagship Oxford Circus store.

Topshop is one of the pioneering retailers in fashion. Last week the high street brand announced that it would be bringing a ‘world first in telepresence and virtual reality’ to 2014’s London Fashion Week. Footage from the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall would be streamed live in a virtual experience so that shoppers at its Oxford Circus store could be transported straight to the Topshop Unique catwalk. An exciting idea and one which reminded me of ‘Burberry World’. Intrigued, I went to see what it was all about. The activation has been housed in one of the store’s largest two front windows, a high-footfall area with a steady stream of target shoppers. The installation itself was simple, comprising five white stools with headsets and four screens playing a video stream from the catwalk. It looked intriguing, although more could have been done to translate the virtual experience you actually get from wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset.That said, the creative treatment was monochrome and not as bold or lively as you would expect from a Topshop window display. On entering the store, it was also clear that any advertisement for the experience stopped at the store windows and staff immediately inside – surprising considering the financial investment involved.However, a queuing system made it feel more ‘VIP’ and something worth waiting for. The line was full of teenage girls, and interestingly a number of males too. Whether you’re into fashion or tech (or both), it’s clearly a unique opportunity to interact with something new. While for those queuing, there were some nice brand partnerships with free bags of Popchips and bottles of Coconut Water – a great incentive to remain in line and product sampling in its subtlest form. Perhaps a missed opportunity was the lack of data collection, as most retailers would kill for 20 minutes of dwell time (which is how long each customer could potentially be waiting) with their target audience. Topshop could have collected email addresses in the queue via an iPad, or handed out leaflets at the end that encouraged the shopper to sign-up for an alert when the AW14 collection landed in-store, serving as a continued reminder of the brand.Nonetheless, the 360-degree catwalk experience itself was impressive and has obvious potential. The only caveat would be that wearing a material-lined mask that had been passed from person to person wouldn’t have appealed to everyone. The quality of the footage also wasn’t great (but didn’t matter too much in this instance), and the visual experience lacked any kind of spoken narrative.Overall however, the buzz around the activity was good and the shoppers taking part seemed really impressed. The technology was exemplary and the activity did what it set out to do – bring the shopper closer to the catwalk experience and create a genuine talking point.As a marketer, it’s in our DNA to scrutinise every piece of activity a brand or retailer does and pinpoint what or how it could have been done better. The Topshop virtual experience was simple and intuitive, and successfully captured the minds of its core demographic. Parts of the activity may have been more novel than tactical, but what is clear is that the retailer has a winning strategy in place to bring innovation to the high street and embed technology within the fashion experience. While we’re still at the very early stages of truly valuable, shopper-centric digital integration in the retail environment, projects like this amplify that the in-store experience should be on the agenda of other fashion retailers and brands.

You can find Mark Broughton on Twitter @MarkBroughton

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