Facebook recently made headlines when it changed its name to Meta Platforms, Inc., or “Meta” for short. According to the company, the change reflects the company’s growing focus on (and huge financial investment in) the metaverse. While this news put the metaverse into a spotlight, it also prompted the uninitiated to ask, “What the heck is the metaverse?”
What Exactly Is the Metaverse?
In its most basic concept, the metaverse is a shared multifaceted virtual universe that merges reality and the virtual world. The metaverse will offer a diverse range of interconnected digital environments where users can interact with others. These virtual landscapes will offer spaces for shopping, leisure activities, social gatherings, work and much more. Avatars will represent users.
For example, users will be able to enjoy lunch with friends at noon and then join a work meeting immediately afterwards. Later, they can shop for clothing, go to a concert, attend a class or fly a plane to Paris — all virtually, of course. Even better, users will be able to do all of this without leaving their couch. Virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices will provide access to digital habitats.
An All-Encompassing Virtual Journey
The metaverse is designed to evolve and grow based on user decisions and interactions within the space. It offers a fully immersive experience, and there are virtually no limits on its design. It will continue to expand as more and more users join in. Metaverses do not pause when users leave them. They just continue on indefinitely. “There will be no differentiation between the digital world and the physical world. In the metaverse, time is irrelevant,” said Alan Smithson, co-founder of MetaVRse, a company that provides platforms that make it easier to build coding-optional virtual experiences. “These worlds never pause. They are always there.”
Is the Metaverse Available to the Public?
To be clear, the metaverse is not a reality just yet. Experts predict it could take five to ten years before the metaverse goes mainstream. Metaverse technology is still in its infancy, but gaming communities such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox give us a glimpse. Ultra-fast broadband speeds, virtual reality headsets and persistent, always-on online worlds are already up and running, although not accessible to all.
Meta is not the only company building the metaverse. Corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Epic Games, Nvidia and Roblox are also investing heavily in the arena. Like Meta, each of these companies sees the metaverse as the next generation of online interaction.
What Will Fuel the Metaverse?
The metaverse will be powered in part by augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things (IoT). As these technologies become more popular and user-friendly, the number of people using them grows every year. According to statistics, 58.9 million people will use VR, and 93.3 million will use AR at least once per month in 2021. Experts predict the global AR and VR industries will reach $372 billion by 2026.
How Will the Metaverse Change eCommerce?
While still years away, the metaverse has the potential to be a game changer for the eCommerce industry. In an online retail world where personalization is everything, the metaverse will offer hyper-personalized retail experiences the likes of which consumers have never seen. Whatever a user can imagine can come to virtual life in the metaverse.
Imagine being escorted around a sporting goods store by a virtual Tom Brady or shopping for camping equipment in Yosemite. Chef Ming Tsai can help shoppers select the perfect carbon steel wok, and then show them how to cook authentic Mongolian beef. Shoppers can buy scuba gear in a shop that exists underwater or greet Batman in a comic book store.
Brands have already rolled out glimmers of basic metaverse-like eCommerce experiences. Ikea successfully utilizes AR technology to allow customers to design their living and work spaces using its Studio app. Beauty giant L’Oréal’s Virtual Try On lets customers see how cosmetics will look on them without going to a store. Gucci recently held a virtual exhibit, called the Gucci Garden, on Roblox. Brands such as Sephora, Nike, Disney, Hyundai and HBO are also busy creating virtual communities and immersive virtual worlds.
How Can eCommerce Marketers Prepare for the Metaverse?
When (or if) the metaverse goes mainstream is still unknown. But one thing is certain: the metaverse is not just a passing trend. If anything, it is poised to be the next big thing and eCommerce marketers should treat it as such. To that end, eCommerce brand marketers need to start preparing for the future now. Developing long-term strategies will be crucial in preparing for a virtual eCommerce marketplace.
“Every brand and company will need a metaverse strategy,” Cathy Hackl, chief metaverse officer and CEO of metaverse-focused consulting agency Futures Intelligence Group. “It will change the way we engage with information, the way we engage with the internet. For businesses, it will change the way consumers of the future engage with brands.”
Since the metaverse is still evolving, eCommerce marketers may not be able to take tangible action right now. But what they can do is follow the latest developments and learn everything they can about the unfolding world of the metaverse. A good starting point is establishing a cost-effective framework strategy for early analysis and as an entry point into the space. Brands will also need to consider the long-term aspects of how new technologies can improve client engagement.
Other steps eMarketers can take to prepare for a virtual future include:
Stay on Top of the Latest Developments
In order to keep pace with metaverse growth, eCommerce marketers will need to stay up to speed with the latest technological developments. This includes understanding the concept and uncovering new eCommerce potential within the market. Marketers will also need to closely follow the latest advancements in rapidly-changing AR, VR and MR technologies.
Play Some Games
eCommerce marketers can look to the gaming community as a source of inspiration and learning. Since gamers are already immersed in early forms of the metaverse, they understand how digital and physical realities interconnect. In many ways, gamers are influencing how the metaverse is being built. To that end, marketers can start playing games like Roboblox and Fortnight to get a feel for how the metaverse works and its potential.
Embrace Digital Transformation
Brands will also need to embrace the digital transformation that will be necessary for working within a virtual world. To be effective in the metaverse, systems that are normally in 2D will have to be in 3D. 3D modeling brings a product to life in a way that dramatically enhances the customer experience. As more brands increasingly make the shift to 3D experiences, 2D images will start to seem so 2020.
Know the Target Markets
In order to adapt to the emerging technology, marketers need to be aware of the target markets of metaverse users. Since Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha will likely be spending the most money in virtual marketplaces, brands would do well to embrace them now. Cultivating a favorable brand impression with these demographics in the present could reap dividends in the future.
Since cryptocurrencies work like virtual cash in virtual worlds, marketers need to learn all they can about this new form of currency. Marketers should immerse themselves in NFTs, tokens, crypto wallets, blockchain technology and all other aspects of cryptocurrency. Most importantly, they can learn how this new “digital cash” applies to their online stores now.
Smart eCommerce Brands Will Embrace the Future Now
For eCommerce brands, the money-making potential of the metaverse is huge. If anything, metaverse development will grow exponentially in the coming year. Brands that start preparing now will be in a prime position to take great advantage of the benefits the technology has to offer. Brands who fail to recognize the enormous potential of virtual eCommerce will be stuck in the real world, light years behind their competitors.