How the pandemic is transforming products and services: cases from 2020

12 min readFeb 3, 2021

This article will be useful for marketers, project managers and product owners. The cases discussed in the article can be adapted for creating and improving your products.

The pandemic, and the lockdown of 2020 has forced brands to move to online, let’s consider few trends:
1.Virtual familiarization with product — offline events, trips and traditional shopping have faded into oblivion with the arrival of the pandemic. AR and VR solutions have become a lifeline for brands;

2.Integration of brands into online venues — Brands are resorting to collaboration with major online venues to get their advertising message to more people;

3.Virtual goods — even offline brands want to work online to sell virtual goods;

4.Collective consumption — streaming and music services are introducing features for shared music listening and watching movies. Social platforms are developing group video calling services;

5.Development of the subscription system — the subscriptions help customers to save money, and help companies to generate consistent, predictable revenue in turn.

A virtual introduction to the product

Self-isolation prompted companies to present products virtually. Further you can find some successful activities.

Presentation in a realistic virtual home

Samsung created a virtual home for the presentation of the brand’s products. The company succeeded in pushing the limits of virtual events by using the Unreal Engine gaming platform for its first real-time VR presentation.

Throughout the event, the presenters appeared on various screens — TVs, tablets and phones — inside the virtual space to demonstrate Samsung’s new products. Whenever guests wanted to learn more about a product, they could explore it and interact with it themselves. As a bonus, collectible comic books were hidden among the household items for guests to find. When all five comics were found, the virtual world around the guest was transformed into a fantasy comic book about superheroes.

The presentation was accompanied by immersive sound in 8D format. The event was attended by 4,000 people, who found 870 comic books.

Stream of a flight in a flight simulator

Russian airline S7 streamed a virtual flight in the Microsoft Flight Simulator game with professional pilots. S7 livery also appeared in the flight simulator.

The virtual flight from Moscow to Innsbruck was broadcasted in the company’s group on Russia’s most popular social network: Vkontakte. During the flight, the pilots explained how various processes were organized and how certain decisions were made.

In addition to the flight itself, the broadcast included short discussions with the experts from the aviation community and renowned aviation bloggers.

During the broadcasting, three certificates for travel on a real flight simulator in the airline’s training center and three certificates for 10,000 miles of the loyalty program were raffled among the viewers.

The stream attracted almost 800 thousand views and more than 4 thousand comments on Vkontakte social network. Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the most anticipated games of 2020. Users have been waiting for a new version of the simulator for more than 10 years.

VR space to promote a new show

HBO has launched an advertising campaign for its new show Lovecraft Country, the event was held in virtual reality.

To promote the new show «Lovecraft Country», HBO created space in virtual reality called Sanctum, with immersive theatre, quests, art installations, puzzles and live music.

One hundred selected celebrities like gamers, cultural critics, artists, directors and other trendsetters were invited to take part. The celebrities were wearing Oculus Quest headsets and communicating via the social platform VRChat.

The event was available for viewing on YouTube Live and included interactive activities in which viewers could participate, their actions influenced the celebrities’ experience.

Integration of brands into online venues

The lockdown resulted in a lack of emotion and experience for the users, companies began to build an entertainment component into e-commerce. Let us take a look at some case studies.

A concert in online game

The online game Fortnite hosted a concert by rapper Travis Scott. The concert was accompanied by many great visual effects: the show began with an explosion of a planet-like object, after which a huge Travis Scott started walking around the island transforming into a cyborg, an astronaut, and other characters. The concert only lasted for 15 minutes. But while the previous Fortnite events were one-offs, the show with Travis Scott was shown five times.

The concert attracted more than 12 million players. Marshmello’s virtual concert was also a success in 2019. According to Epic, more than 10 million people attended it.

The success has forced the developers to do collaborations with the musicians more often. In May 2020, a new season of the game opened with performances by Steve Aoki and other famous performers, providing the development to the virtual concerts.

Virtual make-up for Snap Camera

The US division of L’Oréal has released the first cosmetic effects for the Snap Camera app. It allows the customers to try on the virtual images of beauty care brands such as Garnier, Lancôme, L’Oréal Paris and Maybelline. Users can virtually dye hair, apply make-up or apply skin care products.

The number of downloads of Snap Camera has increased by 30 times in the wake of the pandemic. This could help L’Oréal to expand the campaign’s reach during the period. For Snap, the campaign by L’Oréal is a chance to showcase the AR features of the Snap Camera app, which could help to increase the downloads as the users seek to add immersive or entertaining content during the video calls.

Branded clothes in a mobile game

Gucci Fashion house created a virtual equivalent of branded clothing for the mobile game Tennis Clash. Players could also take part in an in-game tournament, Gucci Open, which took place on a virtual branded court with advertising banners of the fashion house.

The integration into the game, gave Gucci access to a large audience: Tennis Clash has been consistently featured in the App Store’s Top 5 Sports Games list and has been selected as one of the “Top 5 Competitive Games of 2019” on Google Play.

Virtual goods

Selling virtual goods is not new, even online games actively apply this monetization model. Buying branded merchandise, on the other hand, is not as common.

A clothing collection for virtual avatars

Ralph Lauren has launched a first-of-its-kind clothing collection for Bitmoji — personalized avatars. Snapchat users can now dress up their bitmoji in a personalized style.

The new feature inside SnapChat is called Mix and Match. The collection includes six looks for female characters and six for male characters. A signature polo, a double-breasted jacket, a bold motorbike jacket and several sporty look options are available.

Bitmoji users, wearing Ralph Lauren, will see the designs on their avatars in a variety of digital apps both on and off Snapchat, including chat, games, Snap Map and personalized content such as Bitmoji Stories.

Mix and Match aims at drawing attention of a new generation of consumers, and telling the brand’s story unconventionally in a language that young people can understand.

Clothing for a virtual twin

Another similar case study. Digital avatar developer Genies has partnered with fashion brand Gucci and «GIF-sharing» service Giphy. Genies users will now be able to buy digital clothes and accessories to dress up their virtual twin.

Genies has created a new 3D Avatar SDK that allows partners to host branded avatars and online shops in their apps.

Gucci will allow users to create and dress up a digital avatar inside their mobile app. For now, the virtual items are available for free, but the fashion house intends to monetize this trend within a year. The integration with Giphy means that Genies’ avatars and shop will appear on services ranging from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to Pinterest.

Many celebrities are now collaborating with Genies: Justin Bieber, Pink, Cardi B, Rihanna, DJ Khaled, Jennifer Lopez, a number of famous athletes from the NFL and NBA.

Creating and selling virtual goods is a new way to build relationships with audience (primarily with Gen Z) and remain a trendsetter in the digital environment. Video games are already profiting from the sale of digital goods, more than 2.5 billion people spend about $100 billion on virtual goods. Fortnite alone made $1 billion over the two years from selling “skins” to players.

Collective consumption

Group viewing option

The streaming service Disney+ has added the ability to watch content as a group for its users. The Group Watch service works both when viewed from a computer and from other devices.

The Group Watch function allows different users to remotely and synchronously watch the same content from different devices — computers, smartphones or TVs. Up to six users can be invited to each broadcast, and an invitation can be issued via the website or app. While watching, the users can share emoticons, which are displayed in the corner of the screen, as well as control the video from any devices. There is no chat in the service, Disney has decided that users can correspond in messengers or social networks anyway.

By adding a group viewing feature, Disney+ is catching up with services such as Amazon Prime and Hulu, which already have similar features. Disney+ has become one of the most successful streaming services of 2020, ranking among the top three in the US.

E-commerce platform launched short videos with monetization options

PinDuoDuo is a group-buying platform with 536 million active customers. The company introduced Duoduo Video: its users earn money for watching, searching for and buying products directly from the videos.

Duoduo Video users can earn virtual coins that can be exchanged for money through video views. Several hundred coins are earned per view. 10 thousand coins can be exchanged for one yuan, but you can withdraw from 10 to 30 yuan at a time from the platform. The money is withdrawn to a wallet in WeChat.

Another feature of Duoduo Video is the built-in product search from videos. If you click on the “Search for similar product” button, the service will analyze the frame and redirect the user to a page with similar products. For example, if a beauty-blogger advertises cosmetics and shows makeup, then a frame search will most likely reveal the blogger’s headwear or clothes, but not the products that he is promoting.

In China, Pinduoduo has topped iOS and Android downloads in the shopping category since 2016. The service’s audience is predominantly from small towns and with a low average check (around $70).

In January, Pinduoduo announced live-streaming, through which any user can sell goods, earning 1% to 80% commission.

Unlike Taobao, Tmall, JD and other online hypermarkets in China, Pinduoduo has focused on group buying and social e-commerce. A user selects an item on the platform and pays for it at a special price. They are then offered to invite their friends via social networks to join them in purchasing the product. If the minimum number of buyers is reached, the transaction is completed, the goods are sent to the buyers. If the minimum number is not reached, the money is refunded.

Joint orders within the app

Didi, China’s largest ride-hailing platform with 550 million users has launched a shared shopping and ordering service. It is now possible to call a taxi or order a delivery together with another user.

The mechanics of the service is simple: a user orders a delivery or taxi order and if another user nearby is going to make a similar order, they are invited to join in order to save money. The group-shopping service also includes bike rental, financial services, navigation, car rental and on-demand truck rental.

Didi started developing this trend back in June 2020 — the service was launched as a mini-app on WeChat. Group shopping has been taking over the Chinese e-commerce market in recent years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend has only intensified. Almost all major players (WeChat and Alibaba in particular) have launched such services.

Developing a subscription system

Many people have probably heard of subscriptions to products such as Microsoft Office 365 or Walmart+. Let’s take a look at how other companies are implementing these mechanics.

Comprehensive subscriptions in the telecom ecosystem

Russian telecom company MTS introduced the first ecosystem subscription “Netarif”, which includes communication services, Internet, music, online cinema, book library and other services. Users can choose their own subscription options.

In comparison with buying digital services separately, the user receives significant savings. For example, a Moscow resident, who gets 200 minutes and 25 GB of Internet, can subscribe to MTS Music for 99 rubles instead of 169, and subscribe to MTS TV Super+ online cinema for 99 rubles instead of 299.

The launch of a single subscription for telecom services and digital services is the next step in the development of the MTS ecosystem. Unlike tariffs, the subscription combines the company’s communications, digital and entertainment products.

Car rental subscription

Kia has launched a car rental subscription programm in Russia — KiaMobility. The subscription is available for the day, month or year, but with a mileage limit. The subscription includes more than 8 options and additional services.

Kia Mobility offers the opportunity to rent one of five vehicles from the Korean brand: the Rio sedan, Seltos, Sportage and new Sorento crossovers as well as the K5 business sedan. The cars are available on a daily, monthly or annual subscription basis. For the first two tariffs, the mileage limit is 2,500 km per month, for the annual tariff it is 30,000 km. Users pay extra for exceeding the limit.

The price of any chosen model includes: insurance, winter and summer tyres with storage and installation services, motorist kit and rubber mats, maintenance, 24-hour support. The brand also offers car delivery at any convenient place and time as a part of the subscription (any region of Russia), roadside and telephone assistance, 24/7 support and maintenance at dealers by appointment. Roadside assistance includes towing, wheel replacement, fuel bringing, engine start, door unlocking, minor repairs in the place of accident and technical consultations over the phone and at the scene of the breakdown.

Apart from being able to use the car without an initial payment, the brand is also considering the use of a subscription for those users who want to take one of the KIA models for a long test drive. Customers, in this case, form an impression of the chosen car before purchasing it.

Hotel subscription services

In 2020, several major hotel chains have started to offer subscription services. For a fixed fee per month, it is possible to not only rent rooms in various hotels, but to also use other services, such as conference rooms or fitness rooms. This is how hotels hope to survive the difficult times for the tourism industry.

The InterContinental chain is testing a “work from home” subscription, guests can use rooms and workplaces in all hotels of the chain for $1.1 thousand in Singapore and $1.97 thousand in Indonesia.

Accor “considers a subscription fee” as one of the possibilities and is looking to convert some rooms into gyms and recording studios.

Dutch chain CitizenM has launched two types of subscriptions for its international network. For $600 per employee per month, a corporate subscription gives unlimited access to workspaces and meeting rooms. The price also includes three nights in a hotel. A second cheaper type of subscription will allow one to stay in a hotel for up to 30 days for $1,500 a month or $50 a night.

The trend for subscriptions in the hotel industry predates the pandemic. The first major chain to introduce the subscriptions was premium hotel chain Inspiration back in 2019. For $2,500 a month, Inspirato customers can stay in 300 hotels around the world with anytime stays. Another $600-a-month subscription includes day stays only (to stay overnight in a hotel, you have to pay an extra fee).

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