In recent years, the hype around augmented reality (AR) and 3D visualizations has seen e-commerce retailers adapting and benefiting from them. Even renowned businesses like IKEA have used 3D and AR technology to elevate the customer experience, radically changing how they interact with their consumers. But the revolution does not end there. Using AR and mixed reality to create a 3D version of the Internet has introduced us to the “Metaverse”. What is the metaverse, and how will this breakthrough in technology accelerate the next generation of e-commerce?
With Mark Zuckerberg taking the big step in rebranding Facebook to Meta, the once vague concept of the metaverse became a hot topic of discussion overnight. However, the term “Metaverse” can be traced back to 1992, when it was first used in the fiction novel “Snow Crash”. Featuring lifelike avatars who met in virtual reality environments, it sparked the development of a real metaverse.
Online virtual worlds, VR headsets, and ultra-fast broadband speeds are some technologies underpinning this paradigm shift. The soon-to-come metaverse that businesses are swarming to be a part of, however, is more advanced. Expected to offer a hyper-real digital world for users to coexist in, work, play, and hang out, it will comprise a wide variety of distinct but interconnected digital environments. It will basically be a digital twin of the physical world created by the convergence in 3D, AR, VR, AI, and 5G. This means that the metaverse will also be a fully functioning economy — hence the enticing prospect for e-commerce businesses.
Stated to be the future of the mobile internet, there is a common view that anyone who fails to take this futuristic technological concept seriously will lose out on a golden opportunity. Since businesses that have not adapted to the digital era fell behind during the pandemic, it is easy to imagine the same repercussions applying to the metaverse. Moreover, the interest of everyday digital consumers has already piqued, pushing brands and e-commerce retailers to dive into this new digital frontier.
In fact, some e-commerce retailers are already using the latest technology to offer a more engaging sales experience. For example, the Philippines introduced its very first virtual reality park as few years ago. Although there have not been any virtual reality retail adventures yet, it is clear that VR and Metaverse versions of local shopping destinations are near.
As the adoption of the metaverse technology grows and more features arise, e-commerce in the metaverse is certain to accelerate. In practice, it is likely that a user can enter a shopping mall in the metaverse. In this virtual space, shared by other individuals, consumers can purchase unique digital items like clothes, including virtual versions of the top products sold online. This will inevitably change the future of e-commerce. When e-commerce businesses leverage this new technology, they can offer customers a more engaging experience without worrying about the barriers present in the physical world.
The metaverse will reshape the way we think of e-commerce with:
The metaverse will allow online buyers to engage with products in real-time from the comforts of their own homes. The setting of a digital storefront will allow buyers to browse, purchase and interact, completely transforming existing ideas of virtual and physical stores. Moreover, e-commerce in the metaverse will remove many physical constraints seen in commerce today. With fees kept as low as possible, brands looking to adopt an omnichannel strategy will be able to coordinate experiences on all platforms from e-commerce to social media.
When it comes to building customer loyalty, tailored experiences are quickly becoming the table stakes. However, even as e-commerce and technologies become more sophisticated, personalisation often halts at product recommendations and special member discounts. But brands that see value in providing consumers better online experiences have come up with innovative digitally empowered selling concepts. One such example is Nike. Investing in the metaverse and taking steps into the bespoke virtual experiences, Nike customers can soon style personalized goods such as virtual sneakers and apparel as per their preferences.
Converging the tangible experience of shopping in a physical store with the unprecedented convenience of e-commerce, the metaverse will boost consumer confidence in a product while retaining top-notch speed and access. Forget looking at staged shots of models in an outfit. The metaverse will allow avatars to try them on, building a stronger emotional relationship between the shopper and product. This indirectly helps merchants reduce returns and cut down on shipping costs.
Compared to other forms of marketing, customer hype and recommendations can make a world of difference in the success of a brand. Knowing the importance of community-building initiatives, companies have started to make their presence on social media. However, this does not mean that the gap between social media and e-commerce is filled — but the metaverse might make this possible. In the metaverse, social proof will go beyond 5-star reviews and tags on social media. As customers engage with brands and fellow fans in real-time, the loyal following built enables consumer engagement to hit the roof.
The incentives of embracing the latest technology like metaverse for e-commerce growth are clear. Cost savings, increased reach, significant revenue opportunities, the benefits of entering the metaverse are undeniable. Considering the evolution in consumer behavior will go through, and the novelty factor of the metaverse that currently entices the masses, incorporating such technologies can provide a significant advantage. Even so, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and only time will tell if the metaverse will be a hit. For that reason, investing in new technologies that have shaped fundamental change throughout society is a great place to start. From next-generation wireless technologies to artificial intelligence, there are a number of actions to consider to stay ahead of the game – for now.