The metaverse – though still ill-defined and early – shows ample promise. Gartner predicts that by 2026, 25 percent of the population will spend a minimum of one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, learning, or pure entertainment. By that time, it’s also predicted that 30 percent of businesses will design products and services for use in virtual spaces, which could offer both employees and customers more immersive experiences.

“Vendors are already building ways for users to replicate their lives in digital worlds,” said Marty Resnick, research VP at Gartner. “From attending virtual classrooms to buying digital land and constructing virtual homes, these activities are currently being conducted in separate environments. Eventually, they will take place in a single environment – the metaverse – with multiple destinations across technologies and experiences.”

XR Talks: Metaverse 101

Historical Parallels

The metaverse holds the potential to empower organizations with a unique atmosphere to collaborate, engage, and connect in a virtual world. In some ways, this has historical parallels to desktop users moving to mobile devices. And just like organizations of all kinds raced to catch up to that smartphone revolution, we could see a similar transformation with the metaverse. That shift will bring about new digital currencies like NFTs, so that transactions can be made in more decentralized and metaverse-native ways.

One industry already making these transformative steps is retail. There, consumer brands see an opportunity to tell a story and engender deeper customer interaction. The opportunities exist to do this while measuring engagement in more interactive ways than 2D media, thus gaining new levels of product insight. For example, product interaction in 3D virtual showrooms has already boosted customer engagement to the tune of 14-minute dwell-time deltas. This includes things like high-intent try-ons for beauty products and apparel, which have produced 73 percent greater conversion rates and a 92 percent boost in engagement. These figures demonstrate the demand that the metaverse and virtual features will have on the retail industry.

Another metaverse demand signal was evident at the first Metaverse Fashion Week earlier this year. Hosted by Decentraland in partnership with the Metaverse Group, it featured fashion shows by brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, and Etro. Meanwhile, brands like Dior, Burberry, and Nike have begun experimenting with virtual showrooms to increase customer engagement and appeal to Gen Z and Gen Alpha. The goal here is to tap into these generations’ comfort with, and affinity for, immersive gaming and digital goods.

The Virtual and IRL Verses of the Metaverse

Early Mover Advantage

At these early stages when the metaverse is still being defined, the possibilities for branding and consumer engagement are equally endless. Though this could go in many directions, today’s starting point is all about designing virtual stores that communicate brand stories and extend physical retail experiences into virtual 3D spaces.

“Enterprises will have the ability to expand and enhance their business models in unprecedented ways by moving from a digital business to a metaverse business,” said Gartner’s Resnick.

And this is exactly what the retail industry is experiencing. It’s happening in short bursts by early adopters today. But like the smartphone revolution, there will come a tipping point where all consumer brands will be forced to adopt as a survival imperative. Those who jump in first will, by definition, gain early mover advantages, as well as a competitive edge in metaverse core competencies.

Olga Dogadkina is co-founder & CEO of Emperia

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