The future of the retail sector will be redefined by increasing digitalisation and multiple new dimensions will be unleashed through the metaverse.
Metaverse which promises to take us to a new universe where the physical and digital converge, could actually have a more of a physical start for Facebook, instead of virtual. Think deeply, it is only natural that those organizations which exist primarily in the digital space would need a physical presence to complete the idea of a metaverse, and vice-versa. Industry experts are reporting that Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, has discussed opening retail stores that will eventually span the world to sell virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AR) glasses.
If Meta moves ahead with its reported plans to open stores, it would then be a first for a tech giant that has existed largely digitally, with more than 3.5 billion people using its apps such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. Physical stores on the other hand, especially big brand high-street chains are readying to launch virtual products on their respective metaverses.
The future of retail
The most profound impact of Metaverse will be in retail. Retail in this digital space will not be confined by channel, device or medium. It will be all around us, serving as a multilayered, extended reality in which the world becomes interactive, connected and shoppable. For example, if a company creates a virtual storefront in the Metaverse, users can enter the store, walk around, see the products they want to buy, engage with others, find out more about the product(s), and then make a real purchase. This completely flips any idea we once had of physical and virtual stores and creates an entirely new way of shopping that would also bring along new consumer behaviour patterns.
The trend has already started. A digital copy of a real Gucci handbag was recently resold for more than £3,000. Popstar Zara Larsson has even made a seven-figure sum selling merchandise on Roblox. Simulated Ferraris can now be test-driven. Burberry operates a digital twin of its Tokyo store, while Tumi and Dermalogica have immersive online retail fronts. The metaverse has even spawned virtual flagship stores from Lancôme and Fendi.
A wave of creativity
The possibilities of the Metaverse is unlocking a wave of creativity that hitherto wasn’t possible in the physical world. Bricks and mortar once defined how we shopped – physically hanging out at a shopping mall was as good as it got. Immersive fictional worlds accessed through virtual reality headsets in the comfort of your living room know no boundaries. Storytelling and new forms of engagement will become the norm. Some experts are calling this 360-degree retail.
A new brand proposition
TheInternet has been the great leveller, then so is the metaverse. Anyone can set up a storefront here. Simultaneously, it opens the world to exciting new competitors to big brand stores, this raises the question of how one distinguishes their offering against everyone else’s in the metaverse. Distribution, location, and availability issues are largely removed from the equation, while the footprint of every retail ‘estate’ is the same. This means that it will be impossible to stand out without a clear brand proposition.
The exponential rise of virtual assets
The best part about virtual retail is that it should be more sustainable and contribute less to climate change than real-world items. Retail brands will increasingly make that point; consume more virtually, less materially. This is the future of retail and it is unfolding at the speed of thought. This will also mean an exponential increase in the digital assets of enterprises. Industrial and technological revolutions have repeatedly changed the way growth is produced.
We moved from agriculture to factories and then to computers. But tomorrow’s growth could well be propelled by something much simpler and much more complex at the same time: knowledge. In our increasingly dematerialized world, our tools are less and less tangible. Now is the time to pay attention to so-called “intangible assets.” Mounting evidence suggests that intangibles are transforming economies and driving growth, the worldwide web of metaverses, the Internet of Multiverses will see the intangible assets becoming tangible.
(Abhijit Roy is a technology explainer and business journalist. He has worked with Strait Times of Singapore, Business Today, Economic Times and The Telegraph. Also worked with PwC, IBM, Wipro, Ericsson.)
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