Retailers can plan for the metaverse with reality tech

by Johan Walters. New extended reality tech could help local retailers plan for a metaverse future.

by Johan Walters. South Africans are known for our innovative flair, but economic considerations have understandably tempered the rollout of some of the sexier technologies used more widely internationally. However, new extended reality (XR) offerings could put all the power of enterprise-grade AI into the hands of local retailers. What’s more, it will lay the groundwork for a future metaverse play, making it an important tech for the CMO radar.

Extended reality (XR) is the new inclusive subset of technologies that includes virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) and the combination of the two, mixed reality (MR), as well as other realities which are yet to come. VR is quickly gaining traction beyond gaming, although the cost of headsets still makes it difficult for the average local consumer to regularly enjoy the fully immersive 3D experience. Augmented reality, however, is now readily available though most of our smartphones, allowing us to overly digital images over the real world (think Pokémon Go).

Together with a rapidly accelerated digitalisation as a result of the pandemic, and the application of some very smart artificial intelligence, XR can make any content shoppable, whether 3D or 2D. More importantly, it is delivering the capability quickly, affordably, and now at scale. And this is something that CMOs, especially those in an increasingly competitive retail environment, should be very interested in indeed.

AI takes XR to a new level

AR in retail has become fairly mainstream globally and has also made some headway locally, especially when it comes to helping consumers visualise products such as makeup, paint, furniture and car detailing. For instance, Plascon launched its visualiser app all the way back in 2012. However, this technology has been turbocharged thanks to the help of XR and AI.

AiBUY, for example, enables truly interactive shopping, making digital content of any kind (video, images, 2D and 3D) shoppable. The tech recognises products and integrates a payment gateway as an overlay, allowing viewers to transact without leaving the brand’s viewing platform. It integrates with a number of payment gateways and e-commerce platforms making integration into existing channels fairly simple. Now, through a partnership with AR specialist, Zappar, it also makes AR shoppable with no external link required. This innovation is particularly useful to brands as it significantly reduces drop off from the customer journey and it shortens the path to purchase.

Another XR product which could accelerate the adoption of the tech by retailers is NexTech AR. This tech can make a 3D model of any 2D image, allowing consumers to view any product, from even the simplest brochure, in full 3D. While the tech may not be brand new, the company has made it accessible, and can turn thousands of SKUs into 3D images by scraping your product website – achieving affordable visualisation at scale. And, while some may dismiss this simply as a nice-to-have, data released from Shopify shows that by adopting a 3D modelling approach and its try-before-you-buy AR features, brands can increase conversion rates by up to 250%. The company, a Meta subsidiary, is quick to point out that its solution, which also allows you to create holograms and 360-degree AR portals, can help you create virtual showrooms and, unsurprisingly, help you take the first steps in a metaverse journey.

Laying the groundwork for a (sensible) metaverse play 

The metaverse still remains an enigma to most, even in our industry. What we do know is that a number of global brands are already staking their claim in digital real estate and there are even some local brands dipping a toe in, snapping up virtual land in Africa’s first metaverse. While for most the jury is still out, research firm, Gartner, believes that a quarter of us will be spending at least an hour a day shopping, studying and socialising in the metaverse by 2026. What’s more, the firm has predicted that 30% of the world’s organisations will have products and services ready for the metaverse by 2026 and enterprises “…will have the ability to expand and enhance their business models in unprecedented ways by moving from a digital business to a metaverse business.” While that kind of projection may fill some with anxiety, we believe that XR technologies could hold the key to a sensible and measurable metaverse strategy.

Test-and-learn approach holds the key – but keep it profitable

It’s hard not to become over-enamoured with the possibilities that new technologies offer, but it’s not necessary to go all-in, right away. Fortunately, some of the XR technologies actually offer some compelling benefits that could boost conversions in the shorter-term (as Shopify has shown us). However, we always advise clients to adopt a ‘test-and-learn’ approach, paired with a separate innovation budget.

By researching and implementing incremental tech rollouts you can limit your risk. A test-and-learn approach also means if you fail you will still have valuable learnings – about your market and your customer. What’s more, by nurturing a test-and-learn culture you can still have a strong results-driven approach based on measurements and KPIs, but it allows your team room to innovate.

Finally, there is no doubt that technologies like AI, XR and even the metaverse, will shape how we as consumers will experience products and services in the future. However, for CMOs who are walking a tightrope in perilously volatile markets, knowing when to add new tech to their offering can be cause for real anxiety.

Watch the new XR applications in retail:


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Incubeta lead consultant, Johan Walters, who has just returned from the Augmented World conference in Santa Clara, US, believes there are tech stepping stones that can help brands prepare for the Metaverse, but in a way that delivers real returns immediately. Founded in Cape Town, Incubeta is a team of over 700 creators, thinkers, makers and doers working across 22 offices globally to unlock business growth for clients including Google, Hyundai, Netflix, HBO, and L’Oréal.


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