The Metaverse and what it means for retail
by Dave Nemeth. The Metaverse is the next retail real estate to be conquered by brands.Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021
by Dave Nemeth. eCommerce and having a dominant digital presence within the business sector has been top of mind for many retailers over recent years. The move in this direction was obviously escalated over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw less foot traffic to brick and mortar stores and a massive increase in online sales.
Technology and virtual offerings are certainly not static, as technological advances are taking place faster than ever before. In the wake of this revolution, we are seeing another word, Metaverse, emerging. In simple terms, the metaverse is a digital world similar to that which is familiar to those within the gaming fraternity. This is a world which can look like anything; where avatars are the order of the day; and you are able to interact with other avatars from anywhere in the world. According to research, “The term Metaverse can be traced back to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’, which is said to have radically altered the perspective of people like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, completely altering his views on the future of technology. Put as simply as possible, the Metaverse is the collective, persistent, parallel reality created by the stitching together of all virtual worlds to form a universe that we can seamlessly traverse.”
In July 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees about an ambitious new initiative. The future of the company would go far beyond its current project of building a set of connected social apps and some relevant supporting hardware. Instead, he said, Facebook would strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences straight out of sci-fi – a world known as the metaverse. If heavy hitters like Zuckerberg are investing in this new realm, then it is almost guaranteed that it is going to become relevant for any forward-thinking business by offering an opportunity to increase sales and build a new following.
These Metaverse – digital worlds – will include everything from shopping malls, entertainment areas, live concerts, and even premiers of movies in virtual cinemas. In fact, anything can be created, and there is already a huge amount of interest with Google searches for the term ‘Metaverse’ having increased 100% since March 2021.
Creating an avatar to visit these Metaverse worlds will become an essential part of the entire experience, not only with regards to looks and facial details, but also with regards to clothing and accessories. These virtual “meta humans” will be seen as being as fashion conscious as our youth are in real life, as well as on platforms such as TikTok. Meeting up with friends online will now be a completely new experience; and the ability to go shopping and to interact with friends is a huge opportunity for forward thinking retailers. Luxury brand Gucci is already exploring these possibilities and recently partnered with the gaming platform Roblox. According to Forbes: “The brand brought some rare items to the platform last year with the support of our creator community. We are now thrilled to announce the next phase of our collaboration as Gucci enters the metaverse in a new and exciting way,” said a Roblox announcement.
Dropping concurrently with the unveiling of the House’s Gucci Garden Archetypes – an immersive multimedia experience in Florence, Italy, that explores and celebrates the house’s unique creative vision – a virtual Gucci Garden space was available to everyone on Roblox for two weeks at the end of May. Gucci also dropped a limited edition of virtual bags in the game, which sold for $4,115 (350.000 Robux, the game’s currency), and which is more than the $3,400 retail value. Who would ever have imagined that one day they would be selling virtual fashion accessories and at incredibly high prices as well?
Entertainment is also making use of virtual experiences, and last month legendary pop band ABBA announced that they had re-formed and released their first new album in 40 years. They also announced that they would be going on tour, but this time completely virtually. Each one of their characters was created based on their appearance over 40 years ago, and these digital characters would perform at a real venue which is being created in the UK. Through the use of special effects and lighting, the 3D forms will emerge like holograms and play full concerts to real live audiences. This proves that digital and real can live in the same space in order to create unique experiences. With the rise of the Metaverse, it will be interesting to see how shopping malls will embrace this technology to enhance their physical spaces for younger audiences. Experiences which can take place both online as well as in the physical space could be key to attracting footfall back to the mall.
With so many brands and retailers only just entering the digital space, it is clear that many will have to take the lead of retailers like TFG, locally, and start acquiring the necessary expertise; or, at the very least, partner with leading edge digital companies, strategists and consultants which truly understand these dynamic shifts in the digital world.
Main image credit: Pixabay.com.
Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is the founder of Trend Forward; and a design thinker, innovator, business re-designer, trend analyst, keynote speaker and writer.
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