As global director of innovation in HeyJeff Wong helps companies harness disruptive technology and prepare for the future of work.
The retail sector has had a good ride. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, online shopping had transformed business models, markets, and supply chains for almost all retailers. Then came the pandemic and the global digital leap, quickly followed by the ongoing supply chain nightmare.
With all of that to contend with, businesses around the world are shifting their focus to the metaverse as they contemplate what comes next: metaverse retailing. It may be niche today, but widespread adoption is inevitable. Retailers that start preparing now will be ready to move when the time is right.
Metaverse Retail Today
Right now, buying and selling in the metaverse (a real-time “3D Internet”) is mostly about online gaming. gamers like Fortnite and on Roblox he buys virtual clothes and accessories for his digital avatars, including products from real-world luxury brands like Gucci. Virtual goods can cost real money: Gucci’s digital-only Virtual 25 sneakers retail for $12.99 a pair.
I said “mainly” about gaming because others are dipping their toes too, in ways that might surprise you, like virtual land, for example. Decentraland is a 3D virtual reality (VR) world where people can buy land and use it for business, just like in the real world.
What’s interesting is that these early examples of metaverse retail broadly replicate a marketplace we recognize from the offline world. It’s similar to how retailers often start their digital offering by mirroring what they offer in-store. But what if you could completely reimagine the retail experience?
What will mainstream Metaverse retail look like?
Brands need to think critically about how the metaverse and physical worlds can be integrated. We have to start thinking about life. in the metaverse and the role we want to play in it. Through their avatars, people will work, shop, socialize and relax in this new space. Therefore, “direct to avatar” products and services will be an opportunity to harness the role of the metaverse as a new arena of self-expression.
Your brand’s vision of how the space works and how you operate in it is a huge opportunity, and it’s never too early to start thinking. Taking action now will ensure you’re ready to get your metaverse moving when the time is right for you.
Start working on your strategy
Start by thinking about your brand strengths and how they fit in with the metaverse. Will your strength be creating digital versions of your offline products, for example, or might you be better off creating direct-to-avatar products from scratch?
Similar questions will begin to shape your vision and mission in this new world and what that could mean for your workforce, customers, and operations.
For example: Think about returns. Trying on clothes virtually before buying has been tried in the past, but it never really sticks. Once augmented reality is more advanced and consumer headsets become widely owned, realistic avatars will finally offer consumers a “try before you buy” option they can trust. Starting to think about problems like this now can reframe technology, customer experience, or operational decisions to work on what’s next, as well as your current environment.
Many areas of strategy are worth bringing to the table, including supply chains. Creating a digital-only offering could reduce its reliance on global supply chains that have caused many retailers to rethink their operations over the past year. Plus, everything from R&D to retail spaces and marketing can be done virtually, without the overhead and logistical costs associated with physical spaces.
Watch and learn
A great way to kick-start your thinking is to learn from others. If you were in fashion, for example, you’d be closely watching the digital strategies of brands like Gucci. At the same time, you don’t want to copy what others are doing. Sit down with your creative and marketing teams and ask them: How can we bring our brand to life with all the extraordinary possibilities the metaverse has to offer? It should feel exciting and fun – how often do you create something completely new and out of this world?
Perhaps there are even opportunities to collaborate with brands that are further along in your journey through the metaverse than you are; that would also be an entry point worth thinking about.
try where you can
There are enough early metaverse tools and platforms out there for you to start playing around and see what might work for you. The best way to learn something new is to get your hands dirty.
Everything you’ll learn from prototyping your own metaverse experiences will be invaluable when you decide to launch it. A good starting point might be to recreate some of your products as 3D designs in the virtual world. Put them in a metaverse and see what they look like. How could you modify them or build an experience around them?
In practice, it might be helpful to appoint a metaverse champion within your organization to drive these initiatives and learn how to communicate the findings to decision makers within the company.
A marathon, not a sprint
The Metaverse retail sale is coming, but it won’t happen overnight. Transaction fees for virtual goods remain well above those for physical goods and will need to be reduced before metaverse retailing hits the mainstream. Online stores will only notice when enough potential customers have VR goggles or headsets, which requires that they be cheap and easy enough to be useful.
As mobile communications demonstrated, companies that sit on the sidelines for too long can end up missing out on a golden opportunity. The starting gun of the metaverse has already been fired.
Retailers would be wise to study the landscape now, decide on a strategy early, and be ready to make their move when the time is right for them..
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