How the Metaverse Could Offer Retailers Mega Opportunities for Growth
By Ismail Amla
This past decade — and especially the last two years — has been anything but easy for retailers in the physical world.
Consumers no longer rely on shopping malls, depriving many brick-and-mortar brands from their primary sales channel. Although opening online channels enabled a larger market, the landscape is amazingly fierce, particularly with the likes of Amazon offering just about anything a shopper could want — except for Nike products.
For certain verticals, such as supermarkets and food retailers, moving online has been challenging, with intermediaries enforcing competition, diluting focus, and competing for consumer and market awareness.
Then came the need for brands to offer curbside pickup, touchless order technology, self-serve solutions, and more. Sure, these have been great ways to deliver what consumers want and have opened new avenues of selling, but they’re not free.
Well, buckle up and gear up for an exciting ride, because another change is coming — the metaverse — and it’s gaining momentum. But rather than be wary of it, retailers can look to the metaverse as a way to reset, revamp, and reshape the retail game in their favor by creating innovative and “other worldly” customer experiences.
Why It’s Gaining Speed
In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson coined the term metaverse as a computer-generated universe. Fast forward 30 years and today’s metaverse is a virtual space that enables users to duplicate items existing in the physical world. Its popularity, while growing, really took off in 2021 when Facebook changed its name to Meta, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg getting plenty of press surrounding the company’s efforts to build the metaverse.
For retailers, the possibilities the metaverse brings are endless.
For example, through multiplayer game creation platform Roblox, Gucci Garden visitors can explore the virtual space and purchase Gucci goods for some big bucks. A digital version of the company’s Dionysys bag sold there for about $4,115.
Teen fashion retailer Forever21 uses the same platform, allowing players to build and customize their own stores, select locations, perform real-life jobs like stocking inventory or helping customers and so on. This enables the brand to reimagine customer experience and foster relationships with young fashionistas and gamers.
Ways Brands Can Capitalize On It
As the metaverse develops further, retailers should keep an eye out and consider it a blank canvas for innovation as it could bring with it new opportunities for building brands, engaging customers and growing sales.
Consider, for instance:
Bridging online and virtual currency realms.
So far, virtual worlds have not enabled simple methods for converting in-game currency into physical world money. However, this could enable retailers to produce their own currency that works in both spaces.
Offering transferable virtual goods.
The metaverse will, at least at first, be fragmented into different virtual worlds. But brands could sell their virtual goods in multiple worlds, allowing shoppers to fashion a consistent style across each virtual space.
Turning shopping into a game.
Think young and fun — as in the Forever21 example. Remember, too, how PokemonGo took the entire gamifying world by storm. Retailers could create games immersing players into everything about their brand — their store environment, products and more and could even partner with other brands.
Guaranteeing a bill of rights for virtual goods.
Some virtual worlds have rubbed participants the wrong way by recalling or modifying purchased virtual goods. Retailers could raise the bar by guaranteeing ownership on virtual items bought in the metaverse. Doing so could extend customer loyalty.
Gathering metaverse shoppers’ feedback.
Launching a new design on the metaverse — like for a car or shoe — doesn’t cost nearly as much as launching a product in the real world. And with the products offered in the metaverse increasingly taking after goods offered in the physical world in terms of selection and demand, brands can test new goods virtually first. They can gather virtual feedback and then send the product into production or back to the drawing board before paying for physical fabrication.
The Sky’s the Limit
Retailers know how quickly the landscape changes. It always will. As the metaverse matures, opportunities for retailers will likely develop, too. Consider how the industry can grab hold of this trend and expand their brand, because if the metaverse comes to fruition, it promises plenty of real-world potential for retailers and their customers.
— Ismail Amla, NCR Executive Vice President, Professional Services