Fashion designer Manish MalhotraOn Thursday, fashion designer Manish Malhotra launched his first-ever virtual store, which allows customers to take an immersive walkthrough of his New Delhi flagship store spanning over 15,000 sq. ft. "As shopping shifts to digital, we wanted to offer our customers an omnichannel experience, which bridges the gap between online and in-store experience by bringing the human connection to e-commerce experiences," says Malhotra who has been optimistic about digital channels driving growth in 2021. The new virtual store will be operational throughout the year, 24 hours a day. Malhotra hopes to gain stronger loyalty through this the new e-outlet. The pandemic has clearly changed consumer shopping patterns and led to an increase in digital consumption. While Malhotra's ecommerce website has been active since 2018, according to him it is a more static and digital shopping experience, whereas he adds, “the virtual store is about the physical store's experience and feel. One can literally walk through the aisles of the store, zoom into products and get details for each item. It more or less brings the serendipitous joy of shopping at our physical stores.” Through this new virtual store—compatible on all devices—Malhotra is hoping to tap markets in the Middle East, Canada, and the US, while growing the brand's presence across tier II and tier III cities in India. However, recreating the same feel and mood of walking through a physical store, digitally, was not easy.“Translating the unique aesthetic of a Manish Malhotra into 3D was a refreshing challenge. Additionally, coordinating everything remotely made it tougher. We haven't had a single in-person meeting for this," says Utsav Mathur, founder and CEO of GMetri, its online virtual experience partner. Malhotra and the GMetri team have been working on this project since March 2020. Mathur explains, "While the platform's core creation time was only around six-eight weeks—with iterations on styling to match the brand and aesthetic that is Manish Malhotra—the whole process of conceptualisation and design, shooting, tech-runs, and interface discussion took us almost a year to bring this to life." Next up, the team is also working on adding a real-time green screen feature which will let Malhotra assist and help customers select the right outfits. Though Covid-19 ensured 2020 was a tough year for the brand, Malhotra remains positive about digital being the primary driver of growth. He adds, "It seems to be the biggest opportunity in 2021. Therefore, I would say a hybrid model is both critical and urgent. I've personally seen the acceptance of online consults for bridal outfits last year, which was never like this before." Currently, the virtual store is limited to outfits, but will soon include other offerings under the Manish Malhotra brand, including jewellery, beauty, and home. Though he admits that ecommerce sales are at a nascent stage, they are growing at a satisfying pace. However, even with the vaccine roll-out starting, will the tech innovation in fashion continue at a the steady pace? “Overall, digital adoption has soared, and it's just a matter of time that we see some of the most disruptive and innovative fashion and digital innovations in the years to come," reckons Malhotra.