Late last year, Walmart, one of the world’s biggest retailers, announced that it would be taking on its own metaverse solutions, filing a number of new trademarks in the process. The retail giant’s aim is to create its own virtual products, but it also plans to launch a cryptocurrency and a range of NFTs. With such a huge corporation entering the metaverse, it won’t be long before other retailers follow suit. Indeed, many other companies have announced their desire to join this new virtual space, and with so many changes in the pipeline, shopping might never be the same again. Here we investigate what metaverse businesses are already being planned and how the metaverse might alter the world of shopping.
Shopping in the metaverse – completely new shopping experience
Although online shopping has been around since the 80s, it wasn’t until the 2000s and 2010s that it really exploded, and the recent Covid-19 crisis caused a surge in online shopping as people were forced to stay in their homes. However, this experience has always been decidedly 2D, which causes problems when buying items such as clothes, where you don’t know exactly how they will fit or look until they arrive at your door. Online retailer Boohoo fell foul of this at the end of 2021 when high return rates damaged their bottom line.
With metaverse shopping, these problems will be a thing of the past. Metaverse companies will be able to create 3D virtual stores where people can try on products using realistic avatars of themselves. With Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman Creator, it is possible to create an accurate digital representation of yourself so that you can enter the digital store and get a precise idea of how something will look and whether it will fit you or not. The combination of virtual stores and digital humans will give us a totally immersive metaverse shopping experience, all from the comfort of our own homes.
And the innovations don’t stop there. Metaverse companies will provide both digital and real-world products, meaning that you can enter a virtual store, buy a pair of digital sneakers for your avatar and have the physical product delivered to your door. Selfridges recently teamed up with Charli Cohen and Pokemon to take advantage of this. They created a metaverse space called Electric/City, which resembled fashion cities from around the world, where customers could shop a virtual fashion collection and buy digital clothes for their avatars to wear. The physical versions of these clothes provided an AR experience of Pikachu when customers scanned a QR code associated with them.
Even with these few examples, the advantages of metaverse shopping are clear. Unlike the 2D internet experience we are currently living with, where you have to spend hours scrolling through sites, reading through conflicting reviews or watching endless adverts, shopping in the metaverse will be the perfect combination of the physical and the digital – you’ll be able to peruse products as though they were real physical objects, even touching them and interacting with them like you would in real life, without the inconvenience of driving to the mall, finding somewhere to park, walking through crowded shops, and waiting in line at the changing rooms or the checkout. There will even be digital humans to guide you through the buying process. And what about the benefits for the environment? If people turn their attention to buying virtual products and not buying physical ones, it means less clutter around our houses and less waste afterwards as well.
Despite the benefits of metaverse shopping, there are reasons for caution. How will we stop people selling fake designer goods, just like in the real world, and how will people be able to tell if their products are real? QR codes, NFTs, and blockchain technologies are just some of the methods currently being implemented, but the issue of shopper security is going to be one which retailers will have to take into account when building their metaverse spaces.
Industries already in the metaverse
With such benefits, it’s perhaps unsurprising that fashion retailers are making the most of this technology right now. Gap, Under Armour, and Adidas have all begun selling clothes with the use of NFTs which allow people to track and authenticate their metaverse purchases, offering added security and authenticity.
Other brands have built virtual stores in the metaverse using one of the platforms which are already available for building and accessing such metaverse spaces. Ralph Lauren have used metaverse shopping platform Obsess to build their virtual store, while H&M have chosen Second Life Metaverse, and Gucci have teamed up with Roblox. The Gucci-Roblox partnership was formed back in 2020, giving us an early idea of what retail might look like in the metaverse. They sold digital bags in their virtual shop, but they were only available for a limited time, which pushed up the value. Some of the bags ended up selling for more than $4000 as a result, and such limited runs could be commonplace in the future of metaverse commerce.
And it’s not just the fashion industry which is taking advantage of the metaverse. Car retailers such as Ferrari and Jaguar Land Rover are already offering simulated test-drives in the metaverse, and Coca-Cola has announced their own platform, Coca-Cola Creations, which will be specifically for limited edition products.
Experimentation and the future of retail
At the moment, many of these virtual worlds and experiences mirror physical spaces and events, maybe so that people aren’t too affected by them. But the possibilities really are endless, and some more ambitious companies are already trying to break new ground with the experiences they are offering.
One such company is United Colours of Benetton, who are creating a virtual shop in the metaverse for Milan Fashion Week. They are really trying something new here, firstly because the store will look quite unique and unlike any physical store and also because customers won’t actually be able to buy anything. Instead, they’ll play a series of games in which they can win QR codes which can be used to buy items in the real world. This is likely to be an interesting precursor to what is to come from the brand and others like them in years to come.
Samsung also appear keen to experiment right now. At the beginning of 2022, they opened their own metaverse space on the Decentraland platform where visitors could complete certain tasks in order to win NFTs which would get them entered into a raffle. This took place at their mixed-reality dance party at the end of the experience, and the winners received a collectible outfit for their avatar to wear.
XR Wizards have also been innovating in the metaverse space through their flexible platform, Mazer, where companies can build bespoke extended reality spaces. This platform is currently being used in the healthcare, finance, and education industries, but their full-body avatars and ability to create complex virtual objects provide the perfect technology to create the kind of interactive environments the retail industry desires. In fact, they have a compelling vision to not only build individual metaverse spaces, or ‘Mazerspaces’, but to establish a network of integrated virtual areas that different companies can all plug into via the Mazer platform. This will take the metaverse beyond a collection of simple VR apps by creating a fully connected world where a person can perform a range of activities back-to-back, just like in the real world. Using your personalized avatar in XR Wizards’ interconnected Mazerspaces, you might go to purchase the newest adidas trainers, then jump across to an NFT gallery to pick up the latest digital art for your VR mansion, before heading over to a remote appointment with a car dealer. The revolutionary thing is that these three places are all joined together, providing the user with a truly immersive metaverse shopping experience as they seamlessly navigate from Mazerspace to Mazerspace.
Ultimately, the metaverse allows brands to engage with their customers in new and interesting ways, opening up new markets for retail. In the virtual world, everyone will have an avatar, which they will naturally want to customize. We can already see this in the gaming world, where in-app purchases of different skins and other distinguishing products already make up a large portion of the revenue of these companies. And with the development of virtual real estate, people will also be buying houses for their avatars, which will also be fully customizable as well. In short, metaverse shopping will open up many more opportunities for selling products.
At the moment, many companies are simply experimenting, but with the limitless possibilities offered by the metaverse, I’m sure we will see plenty of innovative and exciting ideas for metaverse commerce popping up over the next few years.