In October 2022, Microsoft and Meta announced a partnership to deliver immersive experiences. The development solidifies the companies’ position on the Metaverse, which they tout as the future of both work and play. Facebook’s rebranding to Meta and its investments in virtual technologies further support this vision.
During the next years, the Metaverse market is projected to boom. At a global level, it is estimated to grow from $61.8 billion in 2022 to $426.9 billion by 2027, according to MarketsandMarkets. Recent trends, including lower costs for equipment and a growing user interest, are expected to fuel the trend.
Despite the optimism, a vagueness surrounds the Metaverse and its future. Triggering the confusion includes a lack of definition about what exactly it is and what it does. In some ways, its current state echoes the eruption of the Internet in the 1990s. At that time, excitement over the potential of the web abounded. Still, its future was uncertain, and experts struggled to clearly define its use and potential.
Today a simple reflection on the Internet’s growth and advancement reveals an extensive and fast-paced development. Within decades, the web has become an integrated part of society. Its presence and connectivity are both expected and used around the world, uniting businesses and consumers in increasingly new ways.
Though its exact trajectory will come in time, the Metaverse already presents key advantages for retailers. For one, shoppers are interested and actively seeking technologies that are associated with it. Half of consumers accessed a VR channel during the first six months of 2022, according to the Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey by PwC. Among those, 32% purchased a product after experiencing it on a VR platform.
To fully reap the benefits of this technology, retailers need to take note—now—of its potential and maximize what is currently available. This begins with an awareness of the Metaverse and expands into considerations on virtual reality and augmented reality. It continues with reflections on customer experiences and in-store opportunities. Retailers can then imagine and identify ways to tie the technology into their overarching revenue goals and operating strategies.
The term “Metaverse” is generally used to describe the workings of the virtual world. While it is founded on the Internet, its features go beyond basic web connectivity. It is often discussed as an “extended reality,” in which users view places and have experiences that are outside their actual, tangible surroundings.
The discussion on the Metaverse mirrors its development stage. It is typically associated with headsets, smart glasses, online gaming, and immersive experiences. These features make it possible for users to feel like they are in a different setting—without ever leaving their chair. In recent years, the equipment has become more manageable, user-friendly, and accessible to consumers. However, many residents are waiting for the technology to become mainstream before incorporating it into their homes. More than half of consumers viewed the price of a virtual headset as too high, according to a 2022 Morning Consult Report.
Hugo Boss, a German luxury fashion brand, announced a virtual try-on service in 2022. The technology allows consumers to create individual virtual mannequins, complete with their exact measurements. As avatars, they can visit the Hugo Boss online dressing room and assemble outfits. They can mix and match, see what a shirt looks like tucked in or hanging out, and observe if a fabric is transparent or opaque. When they make a purchase, they can be more confident that the size will be a good fit. In addition to a reduction on returns, the technology provides ease: consumers can shop from anywhere, provided they have a connection to the site.
Other retailers have jumped into virtual reality and embraced even more than its fitting room capabilities. In September 2022, Walmart announced the launch of two immersive experiences in Roblox, a Metaverse mega-platform. Roblox has a global community of more than 50 million daily users. Walmart Land is set to feature fashion, style, beauty, and entertainment products to consumers who enter the space. Walmart’s Universe of Play is a virtual toy destination, enabling consumers to participate in immersive games, win coins they can redeem for their avatar verchandise, and have virtual adventures.
Augmented reality refers to technology that superimposes an image, sound, or other sensory information on a user’s real-world experience. For retailers, it provides the opportunity to help consumers visualize how a product could be positioned. Shoppers debating how an item would look in their home or backyard can use augmented reality during the decision-making process. The technology can be available both in-store and online.
IKEA, the Sweden-based home furnishings retailer, has rolled out IKEA Place. The app allows consumers to virtually ‘place’ merchandise in their space. All products listed on the app are true to scale and are 3D, making it easy for shoppers to determine if furniture is the right size for their room.
Guests may have traditionally visited Disney World and its related entertainment in Florida, or Las Vegas and its casinos, to set foot in the places. Now visitors can experience new realities at these attractions. Universal Orlando offers thrill seekers a list of 3D rides, including the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, in which reality is blurred between props and life-like technology. The amusement park also has Despicable Me Minion Mayhem!, a ride that provides users with 3D glasses so they can see and experience a different reality along the course. In Las Vegas, visitors can access Arcadia Earth, an immersive augmented reality journey through Earth. Art enthusiasts can try out the Immersive Van Gogh experience while visiting the Strip. They’ll observe some of the painter’s most iconic paintings come to life, complete with movement and vibrant colors.
Taking advantage of Metaverse capabilities begins with an evaluation of the status quo. Retailers can check what information they have available regarding their customers and their use of headsets. For instance, are target shoppers, or current clients, familiar with headsets? Do they have them in their home? Are they interested in using them?
Brands can also get creative and think of ways that virtual spaces could be used. Are there opportunities to place headsets in stores? If so, what purpose would they serve? It might be possible to give customers additional information and insight that isn’t otherwise available. They could access details about up-and-coming products or have the chance to customize merchandise before completing their order.
As headsets become more mainstream, they could have additional marketing uses. A traveler who is considering a cruise package might be interested in having a headset mailed to them. They could put on the headwear and visualize what it would be like to be at sea.
To maximize the features available in the Metaverse, retailers must keep an open mind. Trying out the headsets that are available, playing an online game, or experiencing a 3D ride are ways to tap into what consumers are living—and expecting. The lessons learned can be applied to new ways that provide experiences in an increasingly immersive world.
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