The potential of the metaverse for e-commerce

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‘Metaverse’: the buzzword on everyone’s lips. Companies like Microsoft, Meta (formerly Facebook) and Epic Games all have a keen interest in the market. Gartner named the metaverse one of the top five emerging trends and technologies for 2022. While the metaverse market was worth $46 billion in 2020, this figure is predicted to increase to as much as $800 billion by 2024.

What does this new, 3D version of the Internet mean for the future of commerce? Meta believes that this new platform is set to reshape e-commerce forever, generating “hundreds of millions of dollars” for the industry across the next ten years. What are the implications for brands and retailers? Who is already on board? An overview.

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse is a version of the Internet that we ‘inhabit’. Whereas the Internet and traditional e-commerce websites today are something we just look at through a digital screen, the Metaverse is a 3D world of online spaces that we will enter, allowing us to interact in a more immersive way.

Users enter the metaverse through the use of virtual reality (wearing VR headsets, glasses or connected watches). Meta has already invested heavily in developing virtual and augmented reality headsets and glasses. Alternatively, users can step into these virtual environments using an avatar. This ‘new Internet’ is populated by avatars – virtual versions of ourselves – and 3D objects.

The metaverse allows users to have virtual interactions, with the goal that these interactions will eventually be as rich as in real life. This is already a common reality in the world of gaming. Games such as Fortnite or Roblox have a social aspect – users ‘hang out’ in virtual worlds.

It won’t stop at visualising these virtual worlds – the next piece of the Metaverse puzzle is to feel them as well. Meta’s working on a glove that allows the user to feel sensations like holding a real-life object. While they’re not on the market yet, they’re a clear indicator of the kind of direction the metaverse will take.

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This parallel digital universe will seamlessly cross over into our real lives and the concept of real and digital worlds become increasingly indistinguishable. In these digital spaces, we will socialise, trade, game, attend music concerts or virtual meetings, and of course shop for clothes to wear–in real life, or on our virtual avatar.

It is still years before the metaverse reaches its potential, but the building blocks are here, and savvy brands and retailers are already thinking about what this means for their relationships with customers.

A new virtual commerce channel

The metaverse will also bring about a new economy of digital goods, entertainment and services. Brands will be able to sell virtual goods (such as a pair of digital trainers for the user’s avatar) and physical goods or services (online sports lessons, etc.).

The metaverse will remove most of the physical barriers that still exist for businesses.

Vishal Shah

VP, Metaverse – Meta

It’s time to rethink boring, flat product pages. Imagine instead of browsing through the hundreds of product sheets on a marketplace or brand store when doing your shopping, you put on your VR headset and walk through a virtual store. Brands and retailers will be able to contextualise the performance, quality and value of the product being sold. No need to hop in the car or wait in queues. You pick up products, shop and try new products out from the comfort of your sofa. The e-commerce of tomorrow will look completely different. Introducing the next era of e-commerce: v-commerce

While the metaverse is still in its infancy, many big brands are buying into it. Notably, fashion companies are noticing the trend, experimenting with digital clothing which people’s avatars can wear in virtual environments.

Brands are taking notice and testing the water

A great example of a brand turning to v-commerce is Estée Lauder‘s launch of Maison Too Faced. Customers are encouraged to enter the metaverse to experience a completely branded, gamified world of beauty shopping, replete with with best sellers, brand characters to interact with, and the ability to play games to obtain discount codes. Customers are invited to invite their friends to meet them in the metaverse so that they can all enjoy the experience together as all of the items available mirror their real-life counterparts. At any given time, the store can accommodate thousands of customers.

Many of the existing examples come from the gaming industry. Fortnite invited the likes of Marshmello and Ariana Grande for live, animated concerts. Users listened to the artists play, danced, interacted with the musicians and purchased digital merchandise at the end of the gig, just like at a live show.

By changing real money into the Roblox currency, Robux, you can buy all manner of items, from clothes to pets to premium content. Luxury player Gucci partnered with Roblox to create a ‘Gucci Garden’ that included a Gucci store, museum and restaurant. The two-week ‘event’ lasted a matter of weeks and users could go to the Gucci store to try on and purchase virtual items. This includes limited digital products, such as the Queen Bee Dionysus bag on sale for just one hour for 470 Robux ($5 USD).

What you can buy you can also trade with other Roblox users for real money. One of these exclusive luxury Gucci bags was later resold for more than $4,000 on Roblox–higher than the value of the bag in real life. Other brands such as Nike have partnered with Fortnite to create NIKELAND, a virtual space with arenas and showrooms where users can try on outfits. 

Consumers’ interactions with brands and retailers are set to take on a completely different meaning, as the metaverse further merges physical and virtual realms, particularly in the world of e-commerce. It is important for brands and retailers to recognise the potential impacts of v-commerce technology today to stay ahead of the curve in terms of consumers’ wants, desires and expectations. Watch this space!

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Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko (Pexels)

Adrian Gmelch

Adrian Gmelch is a tech and e-commerce enthusiast. He initially worked for an international PR agency in Paris for large tech companies before joining Lengow's international field marketing & content team.

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