A viewpoint on the metaverse from the viewpoint of a tech executive (and nerd) who has experience in working with retail businesses and the technology that will drive the metaverse.
Will the metaverse transform the way we shop? It's possible, but the technology that drives it will take at least a decade to get even close to mainstream. Yet, retail companies can begin preparing for it by rethinking how they build their technology stacks and how they shape their customer journey.
I cant wait for the OASIS-like environment seen in the film/novel Ready Player One, where people may do whatever they want, travel to any location, and be who they want. Shopping in such a world would be the natural evolution of shopping.
How long does it take to prepare for the metaverse shopping experience? This requires an answer to the question: how far away is today's technology?
On October 3-4, MetaBeat will gather metaverse thought leaders to discuss how metaverse technology will transform the way all industries communicate and do business.
I have witnessed and experienced the advancement of VR technology in the past 25 years. In this article, I will present my observations and predictions.
The hype around the metaverse is rife.
The metaverse is difficult to keep up with developments and predictions, and on the other hand, to feed the FOMO. This topic has been widely discussed since Facebook's rebranding to Meta and Mark Zuckerberg's speech in October 2021. In the United States alone, the average monthly number of searches on the metaverse is 480,000. The keyword metaverse also led the Retail Insight Networks list of the top five terms tweeted on retail technology in the first quarter of 2022.
The metaverse is expected to grow rapidly. By 2026, 15% of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse, according to Gartner. It is expected that immersion VR technology will revolutionize how we do business, study, socialize, and pay bills.
According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the metaverse market will be worth about $800 billion by 2024.
According to Meta, the metaverse will be the greatest opportunity for modern business since the internet was created. Naturally, business leaders are interested in the metaverse. According to a Accenture study, 71% of executives surveyed believe the metaverse will be beneficial for business and 42% believe it will be a breakthrough or transformational.
Retailers are blazed a trail.
Let's focus on retail. Brands such as Shopify and Contentstack have named metaverse as one of the top ecommerce trends in 2022. In April, Meta's CEO said the company will test selling virtual goods in the metaverse.
First, retail and luxury goods companies have already launched their projects in the metaverse environment. For example, in Nikeland, a micro-metaverse space built on the Roblox platform, Nike allowed users to try virtual goods while playing games.
Balenciaga, a Fortnite game developer, is another example of a retail-games collaboration. The virtual store resembled the physical brands stores.
Nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, are digital ownership records stored in blockchains, and are at the core of the metaverse economy. NFTs are the measure of authenticity for digital copyrights; they are also a business and entertainment for connoisseurs and collectors.
Gucci launched a New Tokyo and another Gucci Grail initiative that consists of wearable NFTs. This year Adidas gives NFT holders exclusive access to four exclusive physical goods.
In a real OASIS, future shopping is a given.
The metaverse, which includes virtual reality, augmented reality, and personalization, contains all of these elements. In an ideal metaverse, comparable to the OASIS, there would be endless possibilities to create a new and unique virtual shopping experience.
We might use our digital avatars to try on and buy clothes, receive style recommendations from store assistants, interact with other shoppers, and go from one metaverse to another. The devices would be comfortable and would be able to convey personal facial expressions.
People might interact with each other as they would in the real world, which can give a major boost to social commerce. The metaverse has an important advantage: it can make shopping more enjoyable and interactive.
That's the intention. When it will become a reality, and whether it ever will, is unknown. That's because the metaverse will not be fully effective in retail until it makes shopping easier, quicker, and/or cheaper.
How far from today's technology is it?
To be clear, the metaverse is already here! You have gaming platforms like SteamVR, PlaystationVR, and Metas own Horizon, to name a few. It's still early days, and which one will become the Google Chrome of the VR space.
I am still unsure whether or not Meta will be used in the metaverse. This is because the technology to create a global working metaverse like the one we envision might not even be invented yet.
My experience with VR technology
Back in the mid-90s, the first time I saw a VR headset was in the United States. It was a big and tiny device that appeared to be a fixture hanging from the ceiling. The resolution and frame rate were horrible. I remember being a bit spooked and dissatisfied.
The previous time I tried VR technology was in the early 2000s. It was used for road research at my university. It even had full-size cars to park in the simulator as well as huge, 360-degree surround screens. The contrast was much better, but the frame rate and response time were still unusable for anything other than research.
In 2016, I had two boys and Playstation VR was just released. The boys got the headset for Christmas and we used it extensively! The resolution was now OK, the response time was OK, and you could wear the headset for more than two minutes without tearing up the headset. The controls were somewhat inaccurate.
My oldest son became a huge fan of virtual reality a couple of years ago, and I totally understand why. The technology isn't there yet, not even for a highly motivated nerd. It's just not good enough yet.
Since I started using VR technology for the first time, it has taken more than 25 years of research!The headsets are still too big, too heavy, and not comfortable enough to wear over time. The resolution and responsiveness are still not great enough, and VR-sickness is still a real concern. This is not a mainstream technology that everyone will wear and use yet!
Are users ready?
A new consumer survey conducted by CommerceNexts that aimed at people aged 18 to 59 found that almost half of respondents (48%) had never heard of the term metaverse, and only 5% considered themselves enthusiastic users of it. Nearly half of respondents (47%) are only vaguely familiar with the term and do not yet know how to use it.
Generation Z is expected to be the leading figure in the metaverse heyday, according to a survey by Obsess that over 75 percent of Generation Z customers have purchased a digital item within a video game, and that 60% of these young shoppers believe brands should sell their goods on metaverse platforms. 54% of Gen Zen think brands should be able to shop wherever they go online, while 45% think metaverse environments should be like online shopping malls.
Preparing your retail business for the metaverse
It's still early to go into business, and technology isn't ready yet, making it difficult to predict which channels and areas will be worthwhile investments. However, if your business does not want to miss out on the opportunities this technology provides, here are some ideas.
Ecommerce executives should start today to enhance the customer experience and strive to shorten the customer journey. Metaverse shopping is about new ways of presenting goods and convenience in payment and delivery options.
Composable commerce is becoming more prevalent, and many businesses are turning to architecture based on the principles of MACH (microservices, API-first, cloud-native, and headless) to become more agile and future-proof.
According to a survey conducted by the MACH Alliance, 79% of technical decision makers surveyed expressed a desire to enhance MACH elements in their front-office architecture in the future.
MACH architecture is one of the most rapidly changing software trends today. It opens endless possibilities and opportunities to keep pace with changing technologies and markets. Retailers may respond quickly, add new channels (like the metaverse), and remain competitive.
The product data (the physical equivalent of the physical product, which we can also refer to as digital twins) will remain largely the same in the metaverse, only VR representations will be needed.
The immersive VR experience will be the next ecommerce platform to enhance the customer experience. It doesnt sound complicated, nor should it be, but it will always be the new source of data. Companies should therefore think about effective product information management in order to collect, manage, and distribute large volumes of data.
Retailers can warm up and test low-risk cases that best fit their niche as long as the metaverse is in development. The first step for your retail business might be to begin selling digital versions of physical goods, because omnichannel is also about repurposing the brick-and-mortar experience with the digital one.
The next step is to add VR/AR capabilities to your story, such as a 360 view or virtual tour, or even developing an app that makes it simpler to try on the product (a great example is Sephora Virtual Artist).
A final thought
The metaverse will not reimagine the internet as we know it yet. Many customers and businesses will never find themselves using the metaverse.
Regardless of what the future holds, simplifying and personalizing your customer journey, staying agile, and making goods and services more accessible are all fantastic strategies.
Morten Nss is the EVP of Technology at Bluestone PIM, a disruptive product information management (PIM) solution based on MACH principles.