The metaverse and eCommerce: all hype or the real deal?
It seems like only yesterday since the world was warming up to the idea of buying everything—from groceries to car parts—online.
Now, the industry is abuzz with news about the metaverse.
What exactly is the metaverse, you ask?
No one really knows.
The metaverse is still in its infancy, and yet, many brands have become entranced. Some have even taken the plunge into the ‘verse already with bright eyes and big dreams.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) for their part are taking the metaverse seriously. Gucci sold a digital-only bag for more than $4,000 on Roblox, one investor noted. And perhaps the beauty of the metaverse is that customers could one day be shopping next to Paris Hilton’s avatar.
So, it’s only reasonable to ask yourself, is the metaverse worth your business's attention? Should your brand take any action right now? Let’s dig deeper into the metaverse and its implications on eCommerce.
What is the metaverse?
Let’s go back a few decades. The metaverse, believe it or not, was first coined in 1992 by science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash.
Nowadays, the metaverse is best known for its deep impact on Mark Zuckerberg, who went so far as renaming Facebook as Meta. It has since hit the mainstream. While no single definition exists for the metaverse, the vision for it is coming more into focus.
At its core, the metaverse is a blend of the virtual world and the real world. It grants eCommerce brands 3D digital spaces, where consumers can immerse themselves in experiences influenced by the best parts of in-person and online shopping.
In its current state, shoppers experience the metaverse through VR headsets, augmented reality glasses, or (in a limited scope) their computers. They’re reborn on the digital platform as mannequin-like characters (aka avatars) and can explore virtual stores, attend concerts, share a coffee with friends, or ride bikes in a park.
Because the metaverse is free from the constraints of the real world, it also lets the imagination run wild. Brands are able to invent lavish “outdoor” digital stores with impossibly high observation decks and always-sunny weather, just as one example.
The possibilities are quite literally endless inside the meta world. That said, the price tag can run high. It can cost anywhere between $10,000 to $300 million per project, depending on the scale of your project, functionality, and the cost of “land.”
The psychology behind the ‘verse
Two platforms currently dominate the virtual real estate game—The Sandbox and Decentraland—and both have already announced that they will never create more plots of land. That’s one of the biggest appeals of the metaverse: exclusivity.
You could be Snoop Dog’s next door neighbor (if you’re willing to dish out $450 million, that is). Or, you could purchase a luxury handbag that only exists in limited quantities on the metaverse.
Alternatively, some brands are giving away wearables on a first-come-first-serve basis, banking on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They risk zero issues with fit or sizing, and instead, stand to benefit from the marketing and customer satisfaction inspired by an immersive experience.
Another trend worth watching: “twinning.” Under this model, digital products become physical products, and vice versa. However, brands run the risk of their customers feeling short-changed whenever they’re able to get one version of a product but not the other.
The technology behind the ‘verse
In any case, to participate in the metaverse, you need to understand the core technologies behind it:
Blockchain - Blockchain is a secure system for recording transactions involving cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency, in turn, is what gives users buying power in the metaverse. You must set up a crypto wallet to start buying products or land in the ‘verse.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) - NFTs are unique pieces of digital artwork that cannot be replicated and therefore carry value. You can make an NFT to sell or purchase one to own. For example, each plot of land on the metaverse is sold as an NFT, as are many purchasable products. Note that not all wearables are NFTs. Neither are all NFTs wearable.
Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) - There is hot debate over whether the “augmented metaverse” or “virtual metaverse” will stick. In one scenario, we could all be spending hours strapped to a headset. In the other, we could be walking around with less-intrusive glasses on our face. Today, we’re somewhere in the middle and future technologies could soon redefine what we thought was possible.
Early metaverse impacts on eCommerce
While omnichannel retail is just starting to take hold, brands are sizing up the metaverse as the new frontier. The promise of highly personalized, dynamic shopping experiences—and the revenues that come with it—have convinced several to begin investing in it.
Some of the earliest adopters include fashion brands.
Fashion Week attendees were met by high-profile brands like Estee Estée Lauder, as well as virtual sales associates who could assist with buying custom-designed NFT outfits for their avatars.
Here are a few of our other favorite use cases of the metaverse in eCommerce.
H&M’s (almost) virtual store
In December 2021, VR company CEEK tweeted a video showing a metaverse version of an H&M storefront. The video depicted a digital environment, where people could buy virtual clothes using CEEK dollars and order the same items from H&M’s physical stores, too.
As it turns out, hype got ahead of reality.
H&M issued a statement denying the rumor of this metaverse store. CEEK later tweeted a response that the H&M store was only conceptual, though it claimed to still be in talks with H&M about bringing the concept to life.
Regardless, the video gave a clear picture of the simple, yet powerful concept of store mirroring. Think: Ralph Lauren’s recreation of its iconic Madison Avenue flagship store on Zepeto, which contributed to the sale of 100,000 units of digital apparel.
Gucci and Roblox: Virtual Gucci Garden
Luxury brands tend to be a natural fit for the metaverse, given their focus on exclusivity, scarcity, and unique experiences.
One example: Gucci. The company launched a virtual version of its Gucci Garden on Roblox in May 2021. Users could travel through the virtual space as quirky “humanoid” avatars that absorbed the bright colors of the various themed rooms that they walked into.
They could also view, try on, and purchase digital items from Gucci, plus take screenshots of their journey to share on social media.
Coca-Cola and Tafi: the iconic brand’s first NFT
Coca-Cola dipped its toes into the metaverse in July 2021 by auctioning off its first NFT on International Friendship Day.
The NFT was a four-in-one deal, which included a Sound Visualizer, a Friendship Card, a Friendship Box, and a custom-designed bubble jacket that could be worn by avatars in Decentraland.
What’s more—to leverage the metaverse’s promise of combining the physical and virtual worlds, Coca-Cola offered the highest bidder a real-life refrigerator stocked with Coke products.
Coca-Cola pulled this off in partnership with Tafi, a producer of personal avatars and 3D content. Their experiment delivered encouraging results: the Coca-Cola NFT sold for more than $575,000.
Hyundai and Roblox: Hyundai Mobility Adventure
The metaverse hit the automotive industry big time in October 2021, when Hyundai launched the Hyundai Mobility Adventure (HMA).
Billed as the first virtual content experience on Roblox developed by a global automotive brand, HMA allows users to visit five themed digital parks: Festival Square, Future Mobility City, Eco-forest, Racing Park, and Smart Tech Campus.
Users can test drive cars, join car shows, drive an urban air mobility device, sell tacos from a food truck, and even power up their virtual house with their metaverse-purchased electric vehicle.
“Hyundai Mobility Adventure features popular vehicles and future mobility solutions, and aims to attract young people familiar with Hyundai Motor products, technologies, brands and future solutions.” - Hyundai
The company took this a step further, announcing its “Metamobility” vision at CES 2022. Under this vision, robots will bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds, allowing customers to initiate real-life changes from the metaverse.
So, is the metaverse worth your brand’s attention?
Yes. However, don't go emptying your wallet to build a meta store for the heck of it. Rather, keep in mind that the metaverse is likely going to expand in the years to come.
Generation Alpha (kids ages 6 to 16 today) may be ultra-familiar with meta-concepts by the time they come of age. And pretty soon, brands of every size will need to find ways to merge the physical and virtual worlds together, all while offering a seamless shopping experience.
It’s therefore crucial to keep abreast of what’s happening with the metaverse and ironing out the kinks of any existing omnichannel strategy.
And who knows? Perhaps in several years’ time you’ll find yourself standing at the doorstep of your own metaverse store.
Editor, Wix eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.