How Retailers Are Preparing to Meet Consumers in the Metaverse
It may sound futuristic and ahead of its time, but the metaverse is set to transform the way we connect, discover, shop and buy. In fact, the advent of shared virtual spaces could be as significant for commerce as the rise of social media was over a decade ago.
It’s true that some retailers and consumer brands are still unsure exactly what the metaverse means for their businesses — and are struggling to see the commercial viability. But it’s important to understand that the metaverse is a continuum of different digital experiences, not all of which are far-fetched or need expensive virtual reality (VR) tech.
Already, we can see early forms of the metaverse emerging that are blurring the lines between real and virtual living. These include fully immersive VR worlds on the one hand, but also 3D platforms on the other. Digitally enabled retail experiences, like virtual try-ons and mixed-reality visualizations, are also part of the broader metaverse continuum.
What’s more, people are increasingly choosing to inhabit these virtual worlds. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2022, over half of consumers say more of their lives and livelihoods are now happening in digital spaces. And almost two-thirds have bought a virtual good or taken part in a virtual experience or service in the last year. Furthermore, a large proportion (83 percent) say they expect to do so in the next 12 months.
Multiple Opportunities in Meta-Retail
So, while it may seem like science fiction to some, the metaverse is already here — and it’s opening up a new realm of possibility for product discovery and purchase. Almost two-thirds of retail executives told Accenture they think the metaverse will have a positive impact on their business, and almost half believe it will be transformational.
There are some great examples already. For Halloween last year, Chipotle became the first restaurant brand to open a virtual location on the Roblox platform, with early visitors dressed (virtually) in costume qualifying for a free burrito. Similarly, Gucci created the Gucci Garden Experience on Roblox, where it sold a digital twin of a purse for a higher price than its real-world counterpart.
While these concepts are clearly at an early stage, they’re undeniably responding to a growing consumer need.
Agility is Essential in Emerging Spaces
Brands and retailers will need to be nimble and responsive as they plot their metaverse strategies. The ultimate goal is to create, shape and market virtual products, services and experiences that can move seamlessly between the physical and virtual worlds. However, right now the priority is to dive in and get hands on — to experiment, get feedback, and iterate concepts.
As they do so, brands and retailers should resist the temptation to see the metaverse as just another shopping channel. It’s a completely new space and a new way to think about retail. It can be used to build loyalty as well as drive sales. Imagine, for example, the potential for collective livestreaming events or one-on-one consultations combined with virtual dressing rooms/try-ons.
It’s also not just for customers. Beauty company Dermalogica, for example, is now using a virtual teacher to educate its staff on skin science. And KFC created a virtual training room where new employees are taught to cook chicken "the KFC way" by the Colonel himself.
Collaboration is the Key to Unlocking the Metaverse
As the competitive frontline shifts into these shared digital spaces, many brands and retailers will need to significantly enhance their digital capabilities. Given the range of the technologies involved, and the speed at which these spaces are evolving, partnerships and ecosystem relationships will be critical to maximizing the opportunity.
For example, Nike is bringing LeBron James to its Nikeland Roblox space for virtual basketball experiences. And high-end U.K. retailer Selfridges has teamed up with clothing brand Charli Cohne to launch Electric/City, a virtual space where shoppers can browse for exclusive virtual and physical products.
The Next Shopping Revolution
There’s little doubt the metaverse will be a disruptive force in retail, but brands and retailers have successfully adapted to the new many times in recent years. Just as with earlier e-commerce and social media revolutions, it will be those that can accelerate through the disruption that will be better positioned for the future. The key is to start investing and experimenting today.
Lori Zumwinkle is managing director and North America retail lead at Accenture, a global professional services company with leading capabilities in digital, cloud, and security..
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