You may have first heard of the Metaverse when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company would now be called Meta. The term had been in existence since the early 90’s but it is now being used to describe a multifaceted connection of the physical and virtual worlds. Citizens of the Metaverse will have a sense of being a part of what Zuckerberg calls an embodied internet. Users will be brought together for shared experiences and community not previously available through traditional 2D webpages and applications. All of this will be made possible by increasingly powerful computers, interactive platforms, and virtual reality devices. So, is the future of retail in the Metaverse?
The Rebound of Unbound Design
The merging of the physical world with the virtual world brings new life to the evolving concept of shopping. The Internet helped hasten the demise of retail shopping malls around the world, as consumers became more comfortable with digital shopping on Amazon and former brick-and-mortar vendors that embraced the new format. But online stores lack the visceral, live shopping experience that consumers crave.
The future of retail in the Metaverse will offer shoppers an experience that is not bound by traditional design. Designers and programmers will be able to model a store in whatever fashion is desired, from an old-fashioned mall to the surface of the moon. Platform designers such as Obsess are developing shopping experiences that connect major retailers with shoppers anywhere in the world. VR sites are already utilizing experiential devices such as the Oculus headsets to allow users to explore virtual worlds and games. It will be a natural progression to begin shopping in these new fantastical worlds.
The Future of Retail: Shopping With Avatars
Online gamers and chat room users have long understood the digital avatar as an image or graphical rendering used to represent an individual in the digital world. The Metaverse will allow online users to shop and engage with products in the virtual world using a digital avatar
of their choosing and/or design. Imagine entering this new type of store and engaging with products AND other people using your virtual avatar. This experience might initially reflect traditional consumer behaviors but would eventually become its own unique experience.
Of course, the future of retail in the metaverse would also allow you to not just shop with your avatar but also shop for your avatar. Stores could offer unique outfits and items that allow users to develop their online persona to better reflect their physical self or possibly their idealized self. Additionally, physical product vendors might include digital gear for avatars with qualifying purchases to blend the physical and virtual worlds.
Embracing the Future of Retail in the Metaverse
Shopping activity in the Metaverse may be a somewhat new concept to many users, but it is already being embraced by a wide array of brands and companies. Among the most popular use cases beyond avatar shopping:
- Virtual Reality - Some retailers are already developing platforms that take advantage of the experience provided by virtual reality gear such as the Oculus headsets.
- Integrated Branding - For many years, brands have paid for product placement in films and TV. Now companies like Procter & Gamble and Hellman’s are partnering with online gaming to be a part of the digital environment.
- Selling NFTs (non-fungible tokens) - Digital renderings of items for purchase in the digital world can be purchased from major brands like Crockpot.
- Augmented Reality - Retailers like Amazon and IKEA have begun to invest in augmented reality so users can go beyond visualizing items in the digital world to using phone apps to see how a given item will look on their physical body or in their homes and offices.
- Products for Digital Avatars - Major brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton have begun selling digital accessories like handbags and jewelry for virtual avatars.
Improving the Online Shopping Experience
Companies like Alibaba have already begun to introduce virtual shopping experiences to their customers. Using the annual shopping holiday in China, Singles Day, Alibaba has been offering special purchasing options to their customers for years. The newest of these experiences is the introduction of the virtual store. Shoppers can use VR headsets or disposable cardboard holders paired with their smartphones to explore a virtual store similar to any other physical retailers. It’s an exciting way for retailers to provide a unique experience to keep consumers visiting and buying on their sites.
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