What even is the Metaverse? — Part I: The move to virtual flagship stores

April 8, 2022
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AR, VR, MR, XR — the Metaverse. Acronyms and names for the next generations of digital experiences are plentiful. Still, brands have been slow to embrace their potential to create new and exciting touchpoints for their customers. In e-commerce, a focus on feasibility has meant our storytelling is often stuck in the past. This year, however, technological advances and the change of focus from the real to the virtual are about to change the way society consumes information.

How? Let’s not only look at the potential we see from a technological perspective but also consider the reality we live in.

Oversaturated and monotonous

First, the pre-purchase phase of the customer’s journey is congested with advertisements, and the environment is competitive. We as consumers have been bombarded with content for a while now. To stand out, it makes sense to provide users with formats and features that are both useful and new, incentivizing them to try, share, and generate reach. Below you’ll find examples of how a useful feature can generate organic attention and loyalty in an overcrowded marketplace.

Second, once a user is interested, the purchase experience has remained more or less the same for many years now. Amazon, a behemoth and one of the most popular e-commerce sites, relies on a heavily standardized product experience, but smaller, nimbler companies have more freedom to choose how to present themselves. Nonetheless, despite offering good usability, many e-commerce websites still feel like simple templates instead of bespoke showrooms for great products. Decades after Amazon sold their first books online, we’re still selling products mostly by placing text, images, and video on a screen. It’s time to develop some new ideas that empower brands for what makes them unique, whether that be a story, philosophy or their quality.

The digital flagship experience

Think of it like creating the physical flagship store a brand strives for, but in the digital domain. A digital flagship store that is at the center of a brand’s e-commerce experience and enables sales on all relevant channels. An example: As one of very few brands, Apple has created a beautiful digital experience that augments their world class physical flagship stores (which have powered company growth among other factors). Now let’s turn it around and put the same care and effort we know from the physical world into our virtual flagship store. Let’s have a digital flagship store lead the purchase experience. The good news is that there are a lot of ideas to start with:

  • Let users try on clothes in AR.
  • Enhance your content with virtual product companions that allow consumers to express themselves with the product.
  • Offer story-driven 3D customization
  • Create a VR experience to sell high-end furniture.

It’s time to funnel our creativity and the knowledge we have from the real world into the virtual domain to create unique and tailor-made purchase experiences employing new AR, VR, and 3D tools. Let’s think about a channel-agnostic purchase experience that’s more than just transactional.

This does not only matter to big and established brands but especially to upcoming digital leaders, as it offers an open playing field that’s less capital-intensive while achieving a potentially higher ROI than traditional retail.

Put the idea first

Whether it’s an AR portal that teleports users from Instagram into the living room of their dreams or a VR shop for secret product drops, brands need to start embracing this new frontier or they will miss out on business when we move from social media to the metaverse.

Because the ideas matter, here are 5 ideas how we think brands can create fast and relevant value using AR, VR and 3D.

  1. Special Messages and Product Drops — Adidas
  2. Furniture and Object Configurators and Previews — Ikea and All About My House
  3. Interactive Product Try Ons — Grailify
  4. Digital product launches and brand worlds — BMW CES

Our work

For Cassú, a handmade pottery company, we started by understanding the brand story and envisioning the perfect customer journey. At the core of the brand, Cassú wants to put nature into people’s homes. All products are made-to-order, and customers can select from a wide range of options that are appropriate for their homes.

We created their digital flagship store: An immersive 3D configurator that’s powered by a strong brand story. Users can preview their configured product at home through AR, giving it a unique name, or sharing it on social media. Does their experience show what it’s like to shop on the Metaverse? Not exactly, but it embraces the first signs of it. And by creating optimized 3D models, Cassú is ready to offer a wide array of new touchpoints such as digital product companions, AR consultation sessions, or digital products in virtual venues.

So how do we recommend you proceed? For most brands it’s probably not yet time to build a VR store on the Metaverse. It is definitely time however to start preparing for the new frontier, whatever it will be to your target group. Think about what makes a brand or product stand out. Is it quality, customizability, a unique story, or something else entirely? What will capture the user’s imagination? Where is help needed? Let these questions lead you towards new touchpoints.

A note on the future

The ideas and thoughts above are merely a starting point. Whether you want to call it Metaverse or not, our identities will increasingly exist in both virtual and real worlds with VR, MR and AR helping to blur the boundaries. This will allow us to have authentic interactions while experiencing exciting virtual worlds. Naturally we’re going to want to shop for our virtual avatars, build digital extensions of our homes and connect the two worlds. Thus what may be a helpful feature to drive conversions now will soon enable an entirely new revenue stream where brands sell virtual add-ons or fully digital companion products to enhance our virtual identities. So to be prepared, start investing in new touchpoints and virtual products now.

If this seems far-fetched to you, look no further than the gaming industry where virtual goods have been generating immense revenues for a while now. It’s time to embrace the new reality and take the e-commerce experience to the next level.

Stay tuned for the next Parts of this series where we explore different industries, cultural implications and some bold visions for the future.

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