The Metaverse is taking the world by storm, with lots of point of view on existing and emerging technologies being adopted by consumers and brands. Here’s how marketers can approach ecommerce in the metaverse.
The metaverse is part of the evolution of the next iteration of the internet called Web 3. This includes virtual and augmented reality that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds. If version 1 of the web was primarily text-based (emails, messages, usernames, email addresses), the second iteration was focused on media (photos, videos, livestreams). Now with Web 3 and the metaverse, user experience is into 3D.
The concept of buying and owning virtual assets in in fact not new. Many games already allow users to own assets and purchase items from online stores. However, the big difference is that in the metaverse, users will have complete ownership of their assets through the concept of smart contracts on the blockchain. And, this is what will transform ecommerce, as NFTs and blockchain ecosystem will pave the way for new forms of transactions and digital property.
The metaverse will provide retailers with a huge opportunity however entering a fully digitised ecosystem will pose challenges for traditional retailers. For example, among the major practical challenges that a VR-based shopping experience would face is the digitisation of touch-sensitive components—texture and aromatics of the products.
Touch is trending
Touch makes interactions with the environment more intuitive and realistic, and therefore makes the virtual world more immersive. Although this space is still experimental, with few established standards, there are already several products in advanced stages of development.
Most haptic equipment—which mimics the sense of touch—focuses on the hands, as
this helps with gripping objects and the ability to distinguish between different textures.
For example, Dutch company Senseglove has created a pair of haptic gloves that transmit vibrations and create resistance against the hand to mimic the presence of an object. Italian Weart has designed a thimble to put on the thumb, index and middle fingers. In addition to resistance and vibrations, they allow you to feel cold and heat.
Recently, another type of haptic product has appeared: jackets. Actronika, based in Paris, has designed Skinetic, a sleeveless jacket equipped with 20 motors to reproduce different sensations, such as a downpour, a blow or the blast of an explosion. Actronika is primarily interested in entertainment use and consumer sales.
Researchers go even further. Scientists from the École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have invented a second haptic skin: soft and flexible, this artificial skin made of silicone and electrodes could be used both for virtual reality and to help patients in rehabilitation .
Elsewhere, a few companies are working on smell. OVR Technology has created a device that attaches to a virtual reality headset to deliver scents at specific times and at different intensities. They believe that their technology can make vocational training more immersive for certain professions where the sense of smell is essential, such as firefighting, the army or the oil sector. In the medical world, they have created a relaxation experience that uses sight, hearing and
smell to invite meditation.
In France, Olfy, a start-up, offers up to five different smells per experience in virtual reality. The base scents come from essential oils, but each customer can be put in touch with a nose (a perfume creator) to achieve a personalised experience. For now, Olfy is primarily interested in professionals for marketing uses, with commercialisation planned for the summer of 2022.
Luxury brands taking the metaverse by storm
Selling a bag or a sweater as NFT is already happening. Buyers receive a token, and
the owner can showcase a handbag or dress on VRChat. Where already tens of thousands of users interact daily via avatars and display their outfits. Companies like Gucci have started to recognise the huge opportunities behind the metaverse and are building their augmented and mixed reality capabilities.
Meta-commerce will be a much more immersive ecommerce experience
Large ecommerce platforms will need to offer unique features by applying new technological innovation to deliver highly personalized digital experiences to their customers. For example, shoppers need to have an immersive experience when their avatar enters a virtual store. We will expect to interact with real-world objects that they can touch and pick up in the virtual world.
Therefore the traditional buying journey will be disrupted. The meta-commerce will offer a
much more seamless and faster experience when it comes to shopping online: VR shopping, digital twins, virtual shopping cart, virtual payment counter and methods, the use of tokens and cryptocurrencies will make this new model borderless and completely decentralized.
For example, this is already what the ecommerce site Finesse does with its clothing designer algorithms. On this site, an artificial intelligence creates clothes which are then submitted to the vote of the customers. The products obtaining the most votes are then produced and sold on the site.
Another example, with Estée Lauder’s Clinique brand creating a new kind of statutory and loyalty system through NFTs. The owners of those NFTs will have 10 years of samples produced free of charge and could even have the right to inspect future products. All of this is possible thanks to a dedicated DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation), helping create the loyalty tool of tomorrow.
The Metaverse shop will not belong in a virtual shopping mall
I would like to point out that we will not see a Web 3.0 version of an offline retail mall. Rather, brands and retailers will have to meet customers where they already are, whether at home, on the sidewalk in town, immersed in a massively multiplayer gaming universe, or any other place where people can be on the metaverse.
The vision of the endless aisle that retailers have held to be the holy grail for decades will
come true—except there will be no aisles or shelves. In other words, technology will continue to remove what we don't like about shopping, the transaction aspect, going to the mall, etc, and become increasingly effective at improving what we like most, which is the social experiences and entertainment value.
This will be true for both in physical stores in the future and virtual store experiences accessible on all kinds of new devices. Think of meta-commerce as the culmination of people, places, and objects to be co-present regardless of physical location. As retailers, you will be able to do more and more things that approximate what we do in the physical world, regardless of the distance between us and other users, products, showrooms, influencers, currency, property
From DTC and DTA (Direct to Avatar)
For many traditional retailers this subject may remain far from their DNA, but they will have to take the initiative to adapt to new business models such as "direct to avatar" or DTA. The DTA is the possibility of buying clothes, shoes and accessories for an avatar in a virtual world. This model has existed for many years in the video games. In 2022, more than $50 billion should be spent to buy virtual objects, avatars, “skins” on Fortnite, FIFA, Roblox, Sandbox or on Decentraland.
Today teenagers will be tomorrow’s adults, with consumption models far from current standards. Indeed, GenZ is already ready to spend around $200 for a virtual object, according to a recent study by Statista.
Genies, a startup in California, is working on the future of avatars. This venture, created in 2017, specialises in the design of 3D virtual characters and offers an application available on all webstores. Genies detects the keywords allowing to analyse the psychic state of the person at the time of his writing and therefore to associate the attitude and the mood of his avatar through 180 available postures.
For brands, this application has become a great opportunity, like Gucci, which was a precursor by partnering with Genies in 2018 to offer users the opportunity to dress their avatar with the
brand's clothes. I also expect to see more and more digitised humans in ecommerce settings, from advertising to selling in virtual showrooms.
Therefore, immersing yourself in the ecommerce of the metaverse or metacommerce will require an entirely new level of security compatible with the ever-expanding size of the metaverse. The acceleration of innovations in metacommerce will depend not only on the popularity of the metaverse, but on the type of experience that users expect from it.
Ramzee Chaabane is managing director at Stink Studios