The Retail Metaverse Is Heating Up. Here’s How Small Businesses Can Benefit

The metaverse is making it’s mark across industries and demographics. How can small businesses … [+] start to think about the ways they can explore the potential of the metaverse?

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Many people, even retail experts who have been in the industry their entire careers are wondering, what does it really mean to be in the ‘metaverse’?

The metaverse exploded into the public consciousness in October 2021 as Facebook, Inc. changed its name to “Meta” and announced multibillion-dollar investments in metaverse technologies. Yet there are lots of cautious voices – Meta acknowledged that the metaverse “won’t be built overnight,” and it may take 10 to 15 years for metaverse products to be “fully realized.”

Digital hangouts

According to Lindsey Mazza, global retail supply chain domain leader at Capgemini, speaking via video call, “it’s just a digital place to hang out”. More than that – “it’s an immersive experience, one where we spend time and gather with friends and relatives to create new experiences that are both digital and physical”.

The move to digital has been happening for some time. Online games, where and how we consume movies or experience music and the crossover to a “metaverse” is already being tested out by many brands.

For many, the easiest way to conceptualise the metaverse is by thinking about platforms such as Roblox, where retailers are beginning to create virtual real estate in the online space.

Fast fashion brand Forever 21 created a virtual store in Roblox. The store was so successful, the brand actually created physical items that mirrored those sold in the virtual store.

“People both have the desire to twin with their avatar, and they desire to be able to experience things in both the physical and the digital,” explains Mazza.

Augmented Reality

As a first step towards blurring the lines of the physical and digital, many online retailers have already added augmented reality (AR) to their e-commerce platforms.

You can visualize what furniture and decor products would look like in your home using AR apps from large sellers like Ikea and Wayfair. It’s possible to virtually ‘try on’ glasses frames before ordering them online and you can even get a virtual makeover to see what products and shades would look best on your face using apps from cosmetics brands like Mac and Maybelline.

One vision of the metaverse is a future where all these apps will be connected – allowing shoppers to virtually try on make-up and glasses simultaneously with a seamless purchasing route.

It’s not just big brands that are embracing AR, digital platforms have also started to roll out tools to help small businesses offer virtual experiences. For example, Shopify supports 3D models on its product pages to let customers see products in AR and has experts available for hire to help create those 3D models.

The development of ecommerce on social media is another vision for what the metaverse could become. TikTok is already forging ahead in this area and so the metaverse is becoming more appealing, enticing and widely accepted than ever.

Test, then test again

This can all sound rather daunting for a small business but there has been a seismic shift in the last two years, that has accelerated access amongst all generations to the digital sphere. The result is a willingness for the average consumer to accept this new shopping opportunity.

Mazza advises small businesses: “don’t jump in with creating digital products straight away – test this market by creating environments to hang out. Let’s make it a location where your customers feel comfortable, can ask questions, where they’re able to purchase physical products. Stick with the thing that you’re really good at, the thing that you know – the products that you sell”.

Review and optimize

Due to the pandemic, nearly all retailers were forced rather swiftly into embracing online selling. Now is time for small businesses to review their online offerings and most importantly optimise their online presence.

Mazza is clear. “If you do one thing to prepare for the metaverse – the most important thing is develop a strategy for how you’ll sell your physical product in a digital way. If you’re doing that online, if you have an app, if you have a mobile site – how can you incorporate a location in the metaverse where you can create an experience for your consumers?”

Just like opening a store in a new town, small businesses can create a place where they can talk to their customers in a new way and bring products to them in a new location, with an immersive experience – it’s the future!

As Mazza explains: “2022 is the year mega brands are exploring the metaverse. They have a lot of appetite and are focusing big spend on these types of projects.” Small businesses need to make sure they are not getting left behind.