Retailers help consumers celebrate life’s milestones — virtually

Commencements-to-go and digital weddings are a reality right now

Spring calendars traditionally are filled with celebrations: graduations, proms and weddings. But as people across the globe shelter in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19, many in-person celebrations have been postponed or canceled.

A number of retailers have developed innovative ways to help their customers carry on with these celebrations, albeit with a virtual twist. In early May, restaurant chain Jack in the Box hosted a virtual, taco-themed, live-streamed prom featuring DJs Diplo and Dillon Francis. Later in the month, the chain offered 2,020 free tacos to the class of 2020.

American Eagle also threw a virtual prom, hosted by Jerry Harris of the Netflix series “Cheer” and featuring DJ Cash Cash, singer Tinashe and TikTok star Addison Rae. And Party City was offering an “at-home commencement ceremony in a box,” complete with banners and balloons.

Couples who were looking forward to exchanging vows over the next few months can still say “I do.” Jewelry retailer Jared, a division of Signet, created a virtual wedding platform that allows couples to create custom digital weddings at no cost or obligation.

The campaign flows from the company’s mission of “celebrating and expressing love,” says Bill Brace, chief marketing officer. As the reality of life under a pandemic took hold, Brace and his colleagues started hearing from some of Jared’s jewelry consultants who were helping couples that had planned their weddings before the social distancing and other mandates went into effect. They had to decide whether and how to move forward. “Many were carrying through,” Brace says.

Some research indicated that the pandemic and resulting stay-at-home restrictions impacted about 800,000 couples, Brace says. “We asked how we could help. It was a moment we needed to step up as a brand and live our purpose.”

Couples using the platform can create their own virtual wedding experience. They select the date, the theme and backdrop, electronic invitations and guest list, and identify officiants and speakers. The platform captures and archives the event.

The platform went from idea to full execution within a matter of weeks. “It was really remarkable,” Brace says. The technology was designed and built in-house; to ensure security, it employs the same video software used by many hospitals and the U.S. military.

While Jared initially planned to work with up to 1,000 couples, it quickly received more inquiries. “We were pleasantly surprised,” Brace says. “We knew there was a need but didn’t know how many would come.” He says the company hasn’t yet decided whether to keep to the original limit, nor exactly how long the campaign will run.

Indeed, Brace notes that one thing he and his colleagues have learned is how critical agility has become. “Campaigns like this change every day,” he says. To that end, he and his colleagues continue to discuss how they’ll adapt and extend the endeavor into the future. Even once in-person weddings resume, typically not everyone invited is able to attend. Brace’s team is discussing whether the platform eventually could be used by couples who’d like to let non-attendees participate virtually.

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