Shopping for clothes online can feel like a chore. You need to plow through row after row of outfits, filtering through categories, until you find something that catches your eye. But the Italian denim brand Diesel offers a tantalizing alternative: a digital showroom that takes online shopping to a new level, incorporating some of the best parts of physical retail.
Diesel came up with this showroom in response to a problem. Thanks to the coronavirus, buyers from department stores and boutiques couldn’t visit the brand’s physical showroom in Milan to explore the brand’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection and place orders. So the brand’s leadership quickly came up with a new plan: They partnered with the consultancy Accenture to design an immersive virtual showroom that looks very similar to the real thing, where people can saunter around mask-free, without worrying about social distancing.
It’s a fun, hyperrealistic experience that offers a glimpse into what online shopping might look like in coming months and years. “One must look for silver linings whenever and wherever possible,” explains Massimo Piombini, Diesel’s CEO, in an email. “2020 has sparked an urgency to accelerate what we can offer and accomplish in the digital space.”
Your journey through the showroom begins in a waiting area decorated with a lush plant wall, where you’re met by a concierge who serves as your guide. Then you begin to explore different rooms with your mouse, much the way you might if you were in an open-world video game like Minecraft. Everything is designed in Diesel’s industrial-chic aesthetic, with cinderblock walls and cement floors covered in a pattern of broken glass. One room features mannequins clad in the brand’s latest ’90s-inspired denim. Turn the corner, and you’re in the footwear studio, where you can take a look at a pair of neon sneakers.
Importantly, you can zoom in or out. Buyers can scan through the brand’s entire Spring/Summer 2021 collection, get a 360-degree look at each garment, inspect textures close-up, and even look at tags that convey useful information, such as price and a garment’s composition.
The experience is currently only available to a small community of vendors, but in many ways, it is an experiment that could replace—or at least supplement—e-commerce for everyday consumers. E-commerce has spiked by nearly 40% in the wake of social distancing. But most e-commerce websites haven’t change significantly since the early ’90s. Back then, brands began building what amounted to a digital version of their catalog. Three decades later, most brands—from major department stores like Nordstrom to newer brands like Everlane—feature rows upon rows of garments, which the consumer must scour by filtering through categories. There have been a few efforts to go beyond this model, from Man Repeller’s arcade game-like interface to The Yes, a shopping app that shows you a customized assortment of products. But for the most part, online shopping hasn’t evolved.
The Diesel showroom isn’t perfect. It’s about exploration, which is obviously more time-consuming than simply scanning through lists of products on a website. (And online, efficiency reigns; just look at the popularity of Amazon.) But it does show what is possible when it comes to online shopping. E-commerce doesn’t have to be purely transactional: It can incorporate some of the visceral pleasures of browsing in real life.
Brands may imagine that transitioning their inventory to a virtual platform like this might be an overwhelming challenge, but it’s worth noting that Diesel managed to build this entire experience and upload every garment from its latest collection in a matter of months.
Brick-and-mortar retail has been in decline for about a decade, partly because brands did not invest in innovation. The coronavirus has forced many brands to shutter even more stores. As retailers continue to negotiate these store closures, there’s a good chance we’ll see more experiments like this one. And that’s a good thing because I, for one, am bored of scrolling through endless rows of clothes.