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Shopper Experience

Emperia builds virtual stores for brands – no headset required

The company raised $10 million in a Series A to build on work with Bloomingdale's and Dior.

perfume on a table with lights sparkling down

A still from the Dior Beauty virtual store, built by Emperia. (Photo via Emperia)

As retailer set out to achieve omnichannel goals, they work to connect ecommerce and in-person retail. But consider each of the channels on their own, and it becomes clear that they both have advantages when it comes to the shopping experience.

Ecommerce boasts the convenience of getting an item delivered to a customer’s door, and a vast assortment. Brick-and-mortar stores allow shoppers to casually browse for items that stand out to them, and more fully visualize an item before buying it.

So the question is: How do you find a middle ground that offers the best of both?

Emperia believes virtual stores offer an answer. The company has put its platform to work with Bloomingdale’s, Dior, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste to create immersive experiences.

Accessible through a laptop, mobile device or TV, the virtual stores can be accessed anywhere, while offering shoppers the ability to move through a store and browse.

In the digital world, the in-store experience can also be taken to new creative levels, as untethering from the physical world can take shopping to new settings that accent a brand’s story. In the Bloomingdale’s holiday store, for example, the Ralph Lauren section was in a holiday forest, while Nespresso was at a Parisian cafe. Chanel’s experience took shoppers to the moon.

Emperia now has new fuel for its own rocketship. The company said Wednesday that it raised $10 million in a Series A round. This funding will help to grow its 40-person, 14-country team, and further develop its virtual store platform and corresponding data suite.

The round was led by Base10 Partners with participation from Daphni (via its retail fund Dastore), Sony Innovation Fund, Background Capital, Stanford Capital Partners and Concept Ventures.

chanel products on the moon

Bloomingdale's Chanel store, on the moon. (Photo via Emperia)

Emperia was founded in 2019 by fashion and retail expert Olga Dogadkina and VR technologist Simonas Holcmann.

“While working in fashion, it became clear to me that e-commerce was the future, but 2D websites were merely a tool that enabled an online purchase, but were lacking the customer journey and story-telling that brands are after,” Dogadkina said. “The solution was to bridge that gap, with the aim of making virtual experiences into the future of brands’ long-term ecommerce strategy.”

Emperia’s platform provides the technology and visual infrastructure that architect the virtual stores. Importantly, it is all undergirded by data. This shows how a digital experience can change the data equation for retailers, even as they keep features of an in-store experience. Emperia tracks movement within the store, demographics, behavioral patterns, important steps of the purchase journey events and more. Analytics are used in layout, design, user experience and merchandise placement.

This allows Emperia to continuously optimize the virtual stores, all while measuring against the KPIs of brand and retail clients.

The result is that the virtual stores can become revenue drivers, Emperia said. The company said its platform increased conversion rates 73% when compared to regular ecommerce sites for its customers, and the average return on investment is 750%.

Following the funding round, Emperia sees a new opportunity to leverage virtual store data to provide retailers with new personalization tools. It is also working with partners in the ecosystem to bring a variety of virtual ecommerce capabilities under one roof.

Base10 Partners’ Luci Fonseca said the firm was “absolutely stunned” by the team and early traction.

“The more we spoke to customers, the more we saw that Emperia is on the edge of a global revolution on how consumers interact with retailers and brands,” Fonseca said. “One way to think about Emperia is through the lens of ‘web 2.5’—it is a device-agnostic bridge for brands to engage with a new generation of consumers while driving real commerce.”

​What it means for ecommerce

Emperia shows that virtual experiences don’t have to require VR headsets. Offering access to stores through a mobile or laptop device brings immersive elements to customers where they already shop. Meanwhile, experience design elements that mimic in-store shopping offer a format that is familiar. The goal is the same as ever: to meet their needs and even delight them with the unexpected.

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LadderUp will include an 8-week ecommerce course. (Courtesy photo)

Shipt is launching a new accelerator program designed to provide ecommerce tools for local retailers.Called LadderUp, the program is centered on equity. Target-owned delivery owned Shipt said conversations with business owners have revealed that local entrepreneurs face “gaps” in technology, but they also want to participate in ecommerce platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic was especially difficult for Black business owners, who saw earnings drop between 11-28% in 2019-2020, as compared to the earnings decrease of 5-17% for the rest of the population.

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