Shopping in the metaverse

A virtual store seems to be the new frontier for retailers who want to capture digital-oriented customers who, at least initially, seem to be enthusiastic about the future of online retail.
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The future of digital shopping is here: a study has shown that around 70% of customers visiting a virtual store went on to make a purchase. Still, launching a store, or even creating a product, for a virtual environment is a big step when it comes to time and resources for small brands. How can retailers create user experiences that are worth the investment that feel useful, rather than a gimmick? 

You don't have to start from scratch

While there are plenty of brands with big budgets creating entire shopping worlds, there are lots of little ways to test the waters. Neha Singh, CEO and founder of Obsess, a virtual store platform, points out that existing augmented and virtual reality technologies offer great partnership opportunities – for instance, gaming platforms such as Roblox or Fortnite, which together draw millions of monthly active users, allow brands to offer virtual products for users to dress their avatars. 

‘Our survey found that nearly three-quarters of Gen Z and 62% of respondents overall have purchased a digital item such as an accessory, skin or garment for their avatar within a video game,’ she says. And, just because you can go beyond the constraints of the physical world, make sure it's user-friendly. ‘Brands should always keep a human-centered perspective and strive to make the environment one that's natural and intuitive to navigate,’ Neha says.

Get creative

Try things that wouldn't be possible in the physical world – what would your retail experience look like if it was on a virtual planet or inhabiting a floating island? Or what if your customers could shop along with a family member or friend who's located across the world? 

Remember that the metaverse offers an opportunity to combine the best of retail environments with the digital world, points out Rachel Girardin, marketing manager at metaverse platform Everyrealm. ‘In the metaverse, you'll be able to talk to a real store attendant, see the dimensions of your desired products and, with advances in haptic [touch] technology, feel them, too,’ she says.

The metaverse is also a great opportunity to consider accessibility. Virtual retail can provide a premium experience, particularly to those who haven't previously been well served by physical stores or technology. ‘We still have a significant increasing gap in digital access for the one in five [people] who have a disability, [who] have a £274 billion spending power – 73% still experience barriers on retailers' websites,’ says Anthony Magee, director of data and experience transformation at digital marketing agency SYZYGY

Build it into your overall strategy

If you feel that a metaverse experience will be a boost for your brand, you still shouldn't ignore other marketing tactics or retail innovation. Anthony points out that brands with omnichannel strategies experience strong growth. 

Plus, the technology is still being developed – far more people will be experiencing some element of the metaverse on a smartphone, rather than a virtual-reality headset – so it's important to think about ways that virtual shopping can complement what people already love about your physical product and space, says Rachel. Consider strategies such as gamification – ‘Create digital counterparts to your physical products that confer digital benefits and rewards,’ she says.

That said, if you do decide that a metaverse or virtual presence is the right step for your business, be sure to give this endeavor the proper planning and resources beyond a one-time activation.‘To succeed over the long term, brands need to build experiential e-commerce into their budgets and create three- to five-year plans for their metaverse initiatives,’ says Neha. ‘Even small brands need to start thinking organizationally about virtual selling and create line items for these investments.’

A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 47, June/July 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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