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Visionary Thinking: IS FAR AWAY THE NEW FACE TO FACE?

How shopping in the metaverse will revolutionise retail.

“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places…”

Facebook’s metaverse is coming. But are retailers ready for it?

According to Mark Zuckerberg, “You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places…”

The Washington Post described it as “a massive communal cyberspace, linking augmented reality and virtual reality together, enabling avatars to hop seamlessly from one activity to the next.”

A much simpler explanation might be: a virtual space in which virtual shoppers can meet with virtual sales assistants; try on product, talk about sizes and, if the retail avatar is good at their job, get sold up.

Initially, that, at least, is the part of the multi-layered metaverse which will most interest retailers.

In short, just as digital consumption on Amazon has over time replaced face-to-face sales on the high street the metaverse might bring them back. An avatar’s face to another avatar’s face, admittedly. But a sci-fi version of a scenario any good sales assistant would instantly recognise, and excel in.

And, if retailers aren’t ready for the metaverse, shoppers, it seems, are. With a recent Ipsos study finding 40% of respondents ‘already had’ or ‘would try clothes on’ in a virtual trial. So, the mindsets of many consumers are already meta-ready.

Right now, Facebook’s much-hyped offering is little more than a virtual 3-D Zoom. But The Verge reports Zuckerberg telling his employees the company will “strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences straight out of sci-fi.” And the Silicon Valley behemoth is totally committed – planning to “transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

At first and at its simplest, virtual shopping in the metaverse might be just as I have described. But The Robin Report believes it will quickly evolve and become more complex – “If you purchase a digital Birkin Bag from a virtual Hermès shop in one ecosystem in the metaverse (let’s say Facebook’s), you could carry that bag with you when you go over to the TikTok metaverse ecosystem. Or if you buy a physical bag in the store on Madison Avenue, with that purchase you would get a digital twin of the bag for your online persona to carry.”

And Gen Z consumers wouldn’t necessarily get those two ‘twins’ for the price of one. Both – real-world Birkin bag and digital version – might command a premium price. Because 21st-century consumers will live between two worlds and shop until they drop in each – real-world-you and meta-you moving seamlessly between them.

The Robin Report again: “The idea of shared, connected, common space bridging the digital and physical worlds is a key element of the metaverse. Imagine playing blackjack in a metaverse casino that is connected in real-time to a casino in Las Vegas. The dealer is wearing a motion-capture suit, his or her avatar is dealing the same cards to you sitting in the metaverse, as to the other players sitting and breathing in the second-hand smoke in the casino.”

A retailing bet on the metaverse then might be well worth considering. Especially as Mr Zuckerberg has already gone all in.

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