$12 Gucci Sneakers …

I interned as a brand consultant over the summer and for one of the projects I conducted market research on which brands appeal to Gen Z and younger Millennials (aged 18-34) and which brands are most trusted by them.  What appealed to me the most was how luxury brands are going out of their way to appeal to this demographic, rather than the older generations despite them having very little buying power.

That’s because Gen Z tend to have a big influence on their parents’ buying decisions!  For the sake of this blog, I’m going to refer to this demographic as Gen Z rather then specify “Gen Z and younger Millennials” each time… 

A few observations on Gen Z behavior that are relevant for this blog post: 

  • They value individual expression.
  • There is a focus on innovation since they have an innate comfort with the virtual world
  • They prefer convenience and actively engage in escapism activities
  • Gucci, an Italian luxury house, is trying to appeal to this consumer base through the uber-trendy space of virtual reality.  Such means have not been taken fully into account by other luxury brands and Gucci has managed to reinvent itself by creating digital marketing tools and adopting emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, AI chatbots and applications.  They have also created virtual versions of their collection and products that are being sold on platforms such as Roblox, Drest (a virtual styling app), Tennis Clash (which is used for Esports), Sims 4 and for VR chat apps where individuals can express themselves through their style. 

    I went onto the Gucci website to check out the collection (https://www.gucci.com/us/en/st/stories/article/sneaker-garage?gclid=CjwKCAjw4qCKBhAVEiwAkTYsPA0RXeN_H9XHuE2MC2D0YxQ0e7jLMhSNOSeGzdqG36OSpdXuBPxo8RoCvloQAvD_BwE). The virtual sneaker collection is different from their in-store range and is super customizable!  Both work as a plus point for Gen Z since they like to express individual style through unique items.  These sneakers come in florescent colors, funky patterns and have the interlocking double G logo all over them. There are no costs to the supply chain, no packaging cost, no sales associate involved, zero waste, and in a way it offers “free” marketing since Gen Z are influencing the retail market right now. The virtual sneakers only require the initial R&D costs that allow limitless customization thus making these items “trendy” for more than a season.  

    As a result, the virtual sneakers cost $11.99 in the Gucci app; considering the cheapest Gucci sneaker available on their website is $680 this is most certainly a bargain to someone who wants Gucci accessories but is not interested in their exorbitant price tag. This product is a non-tangible item which will be representative of one’s “wealth” and style on a virtual platform.   The CEO of Wanna, the technology company that developed these virtual sneakers for Gucci, stated that they are projecting big chunks of revenue for fashion brands will come from digital products in the next five to ten years!?!

    Workplaces and schools have adopted a hybrid approach given the current circumstance and if they continue to do so in the near future, leading to virtual interface gaining more popularity, these brands will have a lot more opportunities to monetize these virtual accessories.  Kids in grade school for example, who may already be at a disadvantage socio-economically, are now put in a position where their classmates are buying branded virtual sneakers like Gucci. As this snowballs, more and more accessories will be available in Zoom classrooms where kids will feel the pressure to keep up with peers especially if the majority of their classmates are buying these accessories. While $10 per accessory may not seem like much, it’s not a cost many parents will be willing to bear (especially for kids that are on food stamps, get free breakfast, etc.). Differences in clothing obviously exist already in the real world, but it’s not like middle schoolers are wearing Gucci shoes to class at the moment.  

    Capitalism has turned luxury into necessity (at least in the minds of many) and in this era of growing inequity unhealthy consumer behavior is thriving. With Gucci entering into the virtual space, it has opened up more avenues for these luxury retailers to make money and give the consumer a false sense of fulfillment.   

    How do you guys feel about luxury retailers making their mark in virtual space?  Since most of us in the class fit the demographic that’s being targeted, would you guys buy the virtual Gucci sneakers?

    13 comments

    1. Did not think Gucci sneaker ASMR videos would be a marketing technique! Your post reminded me of how Fortnite (a video game popular among Gen Z and younger) has partnered with many other brands. The game is free but you can pay for outfits. They recently partnered with Balenciaga for new outfits and they have hosted in-game concerts. I feel like this is a precursor to the metaverse that we’ve discussed in class.

    2. Thank you for introducing a less traveled topic. It is highly likely that I won’t be purchasing luxury brands like Gucci, virtual or otherwise. Something that Gen Z and Millennials are beginning to understand is the importance of masking success. The purpose of this is to either prevent envy amongst their social network or negate the possibility of being doxxed and subsequently robbed. I think virtual luxury goods can help fulfill this purpose of masking success. They can pretend as though they can’t afford the material product by purchasing a virtual one.

    3. My sister previously worked for Gucci so after seeing the title of your blog post, I was immediately interested in reading more! Personally, I wasn’t interested in purchasing real Gucci sneakers even with her discount, so the virtual version doesn’t cut it for me either. I guess it’s a personal style choice…

      I find it very intuitive to use augmented reality for virtual try-ons because of the convenience factor and as a marketing tool to attract Gen Z (think snapchat filter). However, I would have never anticipate that this could actually be a revenue source for Gucci or other luxury brands. I keep thinking to myself, how many people would actually pay for a virtual status symbol? It sounds so vain to me.

      Perhaps, Gucci saw this as a way to compete with NFTs? I’d love to find out how many pairs of sneakers have actually been sold.

    4. I knew there had to be a catch when I read the title but was not expecting virtual reality to be the answer. It was so interesting to me earlier this semester when one of our classmates brought up the fact that someone had paid thousands of dollars for a virtual house. Absolutely outrageous! Personally, I won’t ever be looking for any virtual clothing but it is interesting for sure. The NFT angle is interesting as well, I would think that the pair of sneakers would never really gain value unless they were designed by someone famous.

    5. It would warm my heart if this type of behavior did not happen, although I’m sure my mom and dad can look back on my childhood and remember the material objects I wanted in order to be “cool”. AR is the new avenue to get into the pockets of customers, so on one hand I’m shocked to see people pay for AR shoes, but as @parkerrepko pointed out about Fortnite, people pay for video games accessories that don’t provide any actual value. I would have never known this type of thing existed, but as you pointed out in your comment about virtual meetings and zoom classes, it’s only a matter of time before students can buy accessories on their zoom/hangouts accounts to make them hip.

    6. Creative blog idea!

      Personally, I am not a shoe gal. I much prefer comfort over style and would never be willing to spend more than $80 on shoes (with the exception of hiking boots). With that said, I do understand why people love shoes and are willing to pay a pretty penny for them as collectibles or special treasures to wear every so often. I question how virtual shoes fall into the collectible/treasure space though? I guess you can show them off online, but aren’t you missing a large part of the value by not physically holding them? I need a virtual enthusiast to walk me through this, please!

    7. What interested me about your post is this increasing idea (as pointed out in a few examples of the comments) of non-tangible goods becoming more popular. I grew up on the early days of computer games where I could go on everyday to collect “coins” to make non-tangible purchases, but certainly my mother never allowed me credit card access to pay for AR goods. Perhaps my thought process ages me, but honestly what is the point!!

    8. One of my friends once got a fortune cookie that said “you are out of touch with humanity.” We all thought it was hysterical and still joke about it, but I am increasingly feeling like maybe I’M the one who is out of touch — this blog post completely blew my mind, and the first thing I thought of was that fortune cookie quote. I had no idea VR fashion was even a thing in this capacity, and as @downeastdigitall pointed out, I also had no idea that people were buying virtual houses. As some alluded to in their comments, this might just be the current generational divide that certainly all generations experienced before us (pogs? beanie babies anyone?), but I question the staying power. I’m curious if Gucci is at all worried about this diluting their brand, or if they see this as an opportunity to further differentiate themselves. I do like the idea of being able to express individual style and “brand” while having a minimal impact on the environment, but perhaps Gucci also views this as a gateway to securing brand loyalty for future tangible purchases. From a personal standpoint, in an increasingly remote world I have to admit I would be intrigued by the ability to “wear” designer clothing or accessories – almost like a zoom filter – during online meetings. It would be cool to experiment with different styles without having to invest (and while actually wearing pajamas).

      Lastly, really liked your comment about “luxury as a necessity” and the false sense of fulfillment that ensues – this is a perfect example of just that (I can’t think of anything that screams ‘conspicuous consumption’ more than outfitting a videogame player in Balenciaga).

    9. It wasn’t until the pandemic that I realized the influence of virtual reality on younger generations and the impact it has on their parent’s wallets. It started by learning about in-game purchases in video games and apps, and more recently I have learned about Roblox. Where kids are living/playing in a virtual world and buying an unlimited amount of virtual goods and services. All that to say I am not surprised that Gucci or any other luxury brand is jumping on this bandwagon. They say “get em’ hooked young” and no one specified that it had to be a physical product.

    10. I can’t wait to see the sales numbers for these Gucci sneakers. I bet we will be surprised by the amount of money that this shoe will generate for the company. The return on investment must be fenomenal. I hope they create more like this in the upcoming month, but I am most surprised that Kanye West didn’t come out with this idea first!

    11. Really intriguing concept in your blog. The line that struck me the most was “this product is a non-tangible item which will be representative of one’s “wealth” and style on a virtual platform”. Creating this sense of reality and self-image perception on virtual platforms not only brings the “real world” to the virtual realm, but also ideas of self-awareness and self-image (non tangible concepts we grapple with throughout our life). I personally would not pay for Gucci VR sneakers for the sake of cost and lack of desire, but interesting to see the shift of both real physical world and the desire of esteemed image transcend into the virtual realm.

    12. For some reason, I’m reminded of a line from Mean Girls, “stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.” It feels like companies have wanted to make these virtual good stick for so long, but have never gotten much traction. We’ll see. Maybe I’m wrong, and this time it will work.

    13. I personally think this is genius. By utilizing technology and meeting “gen z” where they are, luxury brands are establishing relationships with this demographic earlier than ever before. I know a young woman who just graduated college and started working this summer. She bought a pair of $1000.00 Gucci loafers for work with one of her first pay checks. While gen z may not have a lot of buying power right now, they will. Brands who are connecting with this demographic now are preparing themselves for success in the future. Luxury brands are partnering closely with young digital stars who have gen z followers and are establishing relationships with this demographic in ways that have never been done before. Top fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford, Gucci, Prada, and Valentino are using stars such as Emma Chamberlain, Addison Rae, and the D’amelio sisters to connect with a new audience. Many think that these young and new stars are not deserving of these opportunities because it has never been done before. On the contrary, brands like Gucci who are using technology and entering the digital space will be more successful in the long run than those who don’t.

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