The metaverse. It’s no longer coming. It’s absolutely, most definitely, 100% here. As consumers get used to the reality of shopping and socialising in a virtual world, brands are looking to redefine how they interact with them, and sell their products. In a world unconstrained by physical bricks and mortar – where literally anything is possible – it really is a retailer’s oyster. With such a rich experiential opportunity, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves, how we would activate in this alt-reality retail space?
What would we sell? How would we sell it? And crucially, how would we keep customers coming back for more? We let our minds roam free to conjure up meta opportunities for four as yet un-meta retailers…
Wait, before we begin, will someone please explain the metaverse to me?
A specific definition is hard to pin down, making it sound as vague as it is promising. Tech futurist Cathy Hackl, widely regarded as the ‘Godmother of the metaverse’, defines it as a “further convergence of our physical and digital lives,” which will see the internet “breaking free from the rectangles in our hands, desks and walls and being all around us”. But we prefer the simpler idea that it’s a parallel reality: one where we can work, play, socialise, wander around, attend events, visit new locations, and buy goods and services (albeit digital ones).
So, who’s already in the metaverse?
Luxury fashion names are among the many meta-savvy brands quick to make the leap, eyeing up the enormous exposure on offer as gamers vie to dress their avatars in the latest gear – see Gucci’s and Ralph Lauren’s partnerships with Roblox, Burberry’s collab with Honor of Kings and Balenciaga’s tie-up with Fortnite – where players can view, try on and purchase the brands’ apparel to be worn ‘in-game’. But as for setting up shop in the metaverse? Get this…
RFOX is a company that’s building an immersive platform with a focus on retail and e-commerce. Each of its metaverses will have 25 stores as well as two stores that big brands can use for advertising. Store shopfronts are templated and retailers can choose from five, and on the inside, a wider range of templates allow brands to switch and customise in a multitude of ways so that no two stores will be the same.
You’re saying it’s possible to go shopping in the metaverse right now?
Sure is! Virtual shopping malls have been set up to sell all sorts of things from make-up to cars. Burberry already has a digital twin of its Tokyo store in the metaverse, and Lancôme and Fendi both have flagship stores, the latter doing a roaring trade in crypto hardware wallet accessories. And as customers up the ante on their digital street cred, products are being sold at eye-watering prices: a digital copy of a real Gucci handbag was recently resold for more than £3,000, while metaverse clothing company RTFKT sell digital sneakers for $70,000 a pair.
What are the benefits of metaverse retailing?
Well, firstly it’s a great way for brands to test the market. For example, if a retailer wants to break into a new territory physically, it can be time-consuming, logistically challenging and risky. In the metaverse, not so. With distribution and availability issues largely removed, they simply set up a digital store in that market to see how customers respond to their brand.
Secondly, there’s the sustainability factor. Selling in a virtual world should contribute less to climate change than in the real world, a point that alt-reality retail brands will echo: consume more virtually, less materially.
Thirdly, and most interestingly, there’s the very fact that it’s a world unencumbered by physical restraint. As RFOX CEO Ben Fairbank says, “the great part about it is that we’re not confined to the laws of logical space”. So, while it’s tempting for retailers to simply replicate the stores they have in the physical world, they should look beyond the limitations of four walls. He aims to “shake up the retail experience and combine the things that customers are most commonly asking about with novel ways for them to be able to experience and try different things.”
So Whippet, what would you do if you were a mainstream retailer setting up in the metaverse?
Well, let’s say we were M&S and owned the hugely valuable asset, Percy Pig. Loved by millions of adults and children alike, he’s prime metaverse material. Imagine being able to enter the M&S storefront, go up the escalators and visit Percy in a virtual world where he lives alongside his pals. Imagine being able to visit the ice cream parlour he runs with his mate Colin (yes, he of the caterpillar cake) and create your very own flavour of ice cream, just for you and your friends? Or, think about the love people have for the brand’s charismatic wine ambassador Fred Sirieix. We wouldn’t say no to him personally taking us to a vineyard in France where we can learn about the wine-making process, and watch our favourite M&S wines being made. Or maybe we can even visit one of the M&S Select Farms to pick our own plump, juicy strawberries?
And if we were a gardening centre like Dobbies? How about our meta shop having a virtual allotment within it? A place where gardeners and plant parents can come to not only buy new products but grow their own too. It would be a huge boon for urban dwellers and could foster a wonderful metaverse community, with the brand and members sharing their knowledge and expertise together. Now we’re looking for a new sofa. We go to made.com. We’ve already used the AR within the app to see how a sofa looks in our living room. So yesteryear. So we visit their metaverse store. Here we’re able to try out different fillings for our sofa: picking from down, feather or polyester. We’re able to stuff the cushions ourselves with different amounts of fillings to find the right comfort level, we choose different fabric combinations and then to top it off, we bring all our friends and family in to give it the ‘sit test’… Now that’s a truly customised sofa.
Let’s get a little more ambitious… Assume we’re Nike. They’re no stranger to VR, having already partnered with Fortnite to allow avatars and characters to Nike sneakers as they work and play. But imagine if customers could enter their store, try out Nike apparel and then enter the Olympic stadium to run the 100m against Usain Bolt… or play for England in the Euros?! You can have that one for free Nike. Who knows, maybe that’s just one of the trademarks the brand has recently filed that signals their intent to move into the metaverse.
We get it. The future is here, and we’re ready to shop!
Great! Grab your favourite cryptocurrency, pop on your Oculus Quest, and get ready to meta shop ’til you drop. We’ll meet you in the mall!