These days, everyone is talking about the metaverse, and its potential to revolutionize the way we work, shop and interact with people. But what is it exactly? The term ‘metaverse’ comes from a 1992 novel by Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash. It refers to a network of 3D virtual worlds. While there’s no single agreed-upon definition of the metaverse, it’s seen as the future of the internet – a version in which users interact with digital content using virtual and augmented reality headsets, and appear to be physically connected to the virtual space, assets and other people.

Two definitions cited by The Verge could help here. One, from Matthew Ball, author of the extensive Metaverse Primer: “The Metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.” More simply, Facebook says: “The ‘metaverse’ is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”

The metaverse is made possible by the growth of popularity of augmented and virtual reality tech, supported by several other recent technological innovations like NFTs and the blockchain.

What can you do in the Metaverse?

To hear the pundits tell it, almost anything you can imagine will be possible – eventually. At the moment, the metaverse isn’t quite fully developed, but it’s getting there. For instance, it already supports features such as real-time 3D computer graphics and robust personalized avatars. To be sure, some of these features are supported in Web 2.0. What will distinguish the metaverse is its wholly immersive experience. By donning a headset, users will “enter” the internet, unlike today, where they’re “outside” of it.

By making virtual person-to-person social interactions possible, you can buy and sell digital assets (a real estate boom is in full force in virtual worlds like Decentraland), establish stores, buy and sell branded products, attend concerts, meet people and hangout with friends, form business relationships and more. Anything we can do in real life, we will be able to do in the metaverse.

eCommerce: The impact, benefits, and why you should care

Virtual shopping

Though the metaverse is not yet fully built, companies are looking for the first-mover advantage by building assets in the ‘brave new virtual world’. The simulated virtual world holds promise for sales by ‘real-world’ brands. Nike has created a virtual space on Roblox, NIKELAND, through which users can interact with the brand, its community and culture. Importantly, Nike has prepared for the metaverse and eCommerce by applying for trademarks for virtual branded sneakers and apparel – which will be sold via NIKELAND and other metaverse spaces.

The dream is that the metaverse should not be funded by ads but by brand placement and sale of products, digital assets, and NFTs. However, Meta seems to be planning to continue their existing targeted advertising strategy to fund them.

Augmented reality

AR and VR often feel like something out of science fiction, but as many as 61% of consumers say they prefer to make purchases after experiencing the product through augmented reality technology. Products such as home furnishings, fashion, footwear, cosmetics, and accessories see high rates of return after online purchases as it can be harder to judge their quality and suitability online.

That’s why major players have begun experimenting with AR technology for eCommerce. Amazon’s Room Decorator and IKEA Place are AR shopping tools (such virtual furniture showrooms were pioneered by Threekit) that help buyers view furniture and home decor in their residence, even combining multiple decor items and products before saving the AR renders for sharing and later review. Similarly, Warby Parker has a virtual try-on application through which the buyer can try on multiple spectacle frames before purchase.

Using the increasingly popular AR tech, shoppers gain confidence in the quality, size, fit, and color of the products buy, prompting more conversions and reducing the likelihood of a return. As AR is one of the more important technologies that enable immersive experiences, the metaverse is closer than we realize.

Social media and eCommerce

Social commerce exploded during the pandemic, and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. According to Forbes, it’s a $1.2 trillion opportunity, and that’s just in Web 2.0! Given that consumers prefer to learn about new products and services from within their own network, it’s no surprise that social commerce is expected to grow three times as fast as standard eCommerce.

From the Web 2.0 staple, text user reviews, to the evolution of conversational commerce, social proof is the core of eCommerce. When bringing together the metaverse and retail industry, brands can take social proof to the next level by building communities through which the customer engages with the brand and other fans. In the future, we could live in a world where shoppers enter a retail store, look at a product through an AR headset, and read (or view or hear) reviews from friends and family – or even chat with other customers in a virtual waiting room, and ask “Have you tried this?”

Product discovery and personalization

How do you find the right product that suits you? The Metaverse is built on data, using which individual shopper profiles can be created. This allows a highly personalized digital shopping experience. In fully immersive virtual stores, stores can be customized at scale to offer each shopper a personalized experience, presenting products that are most likely to interest them (and thus, most likely to be purchased) ahead of others.

75% of consumers find ‘living customer profiles’ valuable to the shopping journey”, and “80% are more likely to buy from an organization that provides tailored experiences”. Personalization can go far beyond product recommendations, which may boost conversion but doesn’t encourage greater engagement with the brand and its culture.

Personalization and product discovery can be promoted through virtual commerce experiences like digital storefronts, virtual events, and interactivity. Another interesting way that the metaverse could be used for product promotion is through virtual influencers. ‘Digital humans’ are beginning to step up as influencers!

3D immersive content

Any new medium depends on the content that it hosts, and that’s true of the metaverse too. Ben and Jerry’s created a plethora of 3D digital assets through virtual photography to increase personal interaction with their consumers.

Data-driven, immersive content and experiences are the need of the hour. It’s important to ensure that the content is feature-rich, personalized, engaging and interactive. Adobe offers tools work to build real-time 3D experiences that push the boundaries of photorealistic immersion.

A great example of the immersive experience is the digital showroom. Consumers need not simply visualize the way the garment looks – they can virtually interact with any piece of clothing and take a 360-degree look, zoom in and virtually try on items.

Omnichannel marketing and the metaverse: the future of eCommerce

How do you combine the metaverse and retail industry? Omnichannel marketing is a great way that involves creating consistent brand experiences among eCommerce, brick-and-mortar retail stores, and social commerce. However, even major retailers find it hard to coordinate the required tech stack and data unification necessary to create personalized experiences for every possible customer journey effectively.

The metaverse offers brands the opportunity to build something new. Using AR and VR, dynamic digital stores with 3D-rendered store displays can offer the immersive experience of physical shopping and the convenience of virtual shopping. While this is probably not the way that brands expected to embrace omnichannel marketing, there is no doubt that the metaverse is a great way to merge online and offline branding and sales.

Keep watching the space for more interesting trends and updates on Metaverse. Also, feel free to check our other thought leadership contents.