A virtual reality: What Singapore’s social scene is like in the new normal
Virtual events look likely to be the modus operandi for a while as the world remains jittery about crowds.
As early as February, the VIP previews, networking dinners, trunk shows, exhibitions and festivals were starting to drop out of social calendars as coronavirus fears spread.
Now, under Phase Two, shops and restaurants have reopened with safe distancing measures in place, but the future of events remain uncertain as large-scale ones are still not allowed.
The natural recourse has been to go digital. But in a world that thrives on physical interaction and sensory experiences, how do you replicate the feeling of holding a luxury accessory or piece of clothing in your hand, or the buzzy atmosphere of a networking event?
The simple answer is: You can’t.
But in this challenging climate, luxury brands have come to the realisation that it is imperative to stay in touch with their customer base as much as possible. Suddenly, bonding over spirits and pasta masterclasses or playing games with wine and cheese have become part of the new public relations strategy book.
Premium vodka label Belvedere, for example, worked with its brand ambassadors from different bars such as Jigger & Pony and Manhattan to stream a series of #CheerswithBelvedere cocktail classes on IGTV. Viewers then shared their own creative spin on the cocktails in a competition to win bottled drinks and Belvedere spirits.
Roger Vivier, the luxury French retailer of shoes, bags and accessories, had a cocktail masterclass with its customers in a Virtual Viv Time event where the brand manager also shared on the latest collection. Meanwhile, Korean beauty brand Sulwhasoo launched its updated first-care activating serum with an online demonstration on how to use the products.
Vihari Poddar, managing director of Vihari Jewels, said that she has been receiving updates on the latest product launches and their pricing from her favourite brands via WhatsApp.
Her own brand was supposed to introduce a new jewellery collection over a VIP dinner in February but it was cancelled. During the circuit breaker, she called her customers personally and sent them videos of herself wearing her pieces and explaining how they would fit in their everyday routine.
She added: “After June 1, one of my sales staff would send pieces to their homes for trying while they waited outside the house. As health was the biggest concern, I also sent them fresh mangoes from India and passionfruit and yellow dragon fruits from Ecuador.”
For luxury brands, white-gloved services, concierge shopping and video consultations are now the new forms of face-to-face interactions.
French beauty retailer Sephora launched personalised video chats and one-on-one skincare and makeup consultations with its experts during the circuit breaker. Even though its stores have reopened, customers can still shop in the comfort of their homes through the Virtual Artist function in the Sephora app. Facial recognition technology scans the user’s face and places the products on the eyes, lips or cheeks on-screen for customers to see the overall look before purchasing with an instant click-to-buy button.
Chaumet’s customers can contact the French jewellery and timepiece brand’s dedicated advisors, who will arrange for the items to be personally delivered. Bvlgari and Louis Vuitton also provide doorstep drop-offs for items purchased via their e-commerce websites.
Diana Ong, director and founder of The PR People, which represents Sephora, said: “For luxury brands, a personal touch is very important, and we foresee more intimate one-on-one or small-group events for high-profile customers with a high level of customisation to further drive the brand DNA.”
“For luxury brands, a personal touch is very important, and we foresee more intimate one-on-one or small-group events for high-profile customers.” – Diana Ong
A CAUTIOUS APPROACH
It appears that virtual events will be the modus operandi for a while as the world remains jittery about crowds. Nevertheless, customers and event attendees do pine for the buzz.
Anaesthesiologists Dr Adrian Ng and his wife Dr Loh May-Han, who are regular fixtures at VIP events, said: “Do we miss physical shopping? Definitely! Along with the sensorial stimulation that brings endless delight to us, seeing familiar faces, catching up, indulging in a bit of retail escapism!”
While Zoom sessions can be entertaining, technical difficulties do happen. Ng recalled one that was rescheduled because of glitches and the couple ended up missing it because it clashed with their work commitments.
“Do we miss physical shopping? Definitely! Along with the sensorial stimulation that brings endless delight to us, seeing familiar faces, catching up, indulging in a bit of retail escapism!” – Dr Adrian Ng and Dr Loh May-Han
This is something that the couple – and others like them – just have to contend with until things go back to the way they were. Which won’t be for some time yet. Public relations agencies that CNA Luxury spoke to said that all events and launches for their clients are almost down to zero.
Lynn Chua, Associate Director, Access Communications said: “Even with the recent announcement of Phase 2, brands are cautious about planning for events due to the uncertainty of the situation. While it’s true that things are recovering, most brands are still adopting a wait-and-see approach and are only making plans for events in Q3 or Q4 of 2020, or even early 2021.”
“While it’s true that things are recovering, most brands are still adopting a wait-and-see approach and are only making plans for events in Q3 or Q4 of 2020, or even early 2021.” – Lynn Chua
Tjin Lee said that the live events industry has faced an “80 to 100 per cent” drop in revenue since February. The managing director and founder of Mercury Marketing & Communications, who is behind the #saveeventssg movement, shared: “Plans are being explored for safe reopening, including temperature checks, on-the-spot virus tests, safe distancing measures, but it’s likely that clients will remain cautious for a time to come.”
To support their corporate clients’ virtual entertainment events, mobile bar companies such as Elite Bar Solutions and Mixes from Mars devised bottled solutions.
Elite Bar Solutions launched the Gudsht bottled cocktail platform together with the team from grill-bar The Refinery and organised “drink from home” employee engagement sessions with cocktails and bar snacks.
Its director Denver Low said: “This has been a straightforward and well-received package by our corporate clients and some of them have already made orders for delivery in Q3 or Q4 2020.”
Roger Yip, co-founder of Mixes from Mars, said: “People look towards different forms of social entertainment such as getting on apps like House Party and Plato. There’s a proliferation of virtual workshops being conducted and I feel that’s great as they embody the social and entertainment element of events while still serving the clients’ purposes.”
On a bigger scale, Zouk is keeping the party jive and Mambo dreams alive through cloud clubbing live streams with gaming company Razer and its Zouk Digital programming of DJ sets, fitness and cocktail classes, and inspiring conversations with creatives.
Andrew Li, CEO of Zouk Group, said: “We thought about cloud clubbing quite early on as we saw the initiative in China when clubs were shut. And with teams all over the world we could create a lot of content and push it out on our different country channels. It is not so much a revenue stream as it is about staying connected with our audience.”
“Plans are being explored for safe reopening, including temperature checks, on-the-spot virus tests, safe distancing measures, but it’s likely that clients will remain cautious for a time to come.” – Tjin Lee