Ever heard of Jane Snowball? Probably (and understandably) not. But before Amazon, before eBay, before Alibaba, before the concept of shopping in the metaverse, she was a pioneer of eCommerce. Jane wasn’t a tech whizz kid or a retail mastermind, she was a 72-year-old grandma who became one of the first people ever to order goods ‘online’ in 1983.
Using a piece of technology called Videotex – which was hooked up to her television set and remote control – Jane was able to do a full grocery shop through her TV. The order was then sent down her telephone line to the local Tesco supermarket, who delivered it direct to her door in Gateshead, UK.
Little did Jane know she was making eCommerce history, nearly 10 years before the World Wide Web was introduced to the public. So during Web -1.0, if you will.
What did she think of this unique, groundbreaking digital experience? “Wonderful,” she said. A woman of few, potent words is Jane. But Michael Aldrich, the man behind Videotex technology, candidly remembers she did have one gripe. She missed the interactive nature of shopping in person.
“Shopping was a social activity where she met friends,” he told the BBC.
Making eCommerce in the metaverse a social experience
Jane makes a great point. For many people, shopping is a social experience as well as a functional one. Early critics of the internet were quick to claim eCommerce wouldn’t catch on because people would miss the interactions and face-to-face conversations that come with shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.
They were obviously wrong about the popularity of online shopping. The benefits (convenience, cost and efficiency) are too good to ignore.
And of course critics didn’t foresee a pandemic that would fuel an explosion of eCommerce adoption – an accelerant that also not-so-subtly shone a light on another thing that’s missing from online retail: our need for human connection.
More than four out of five (82%) consumers want more human interactions when shopping in the future, not less. While eCommerce sales continue to rise every year, there are still many people like Jane, who want shopping to be an experience, not just an emotionless transaction. And they don’t just want it, they’ll pay extra for it.
A similar 81% of people say a brand’s digital presence is now as important as its in-store presence. In the past, this has been a classic Catch-22; how do you get more human connection in a digital world?
This is where retail in the metaverse comes in – and might be perfectly timed. It has the chance to unlock the best of both worlds: the convenience and speed of eCommerce, blended seamlessly with the engaging human experiences of in-store shopping.
Mrs. Snowball would approve, we think. Now how will retailers deliver these unique experiences?
What will retailers be able to do in the metaverse?
The metaverse might be in its earliest days, but forward-thinking brands and developers are now exploring virtual worlds. These (eventually) could become a seamlessly interconnected universe. And it’s in these virtual worlds that we’re already seeing brands determining what eCommerce in the metaverse might deliver.
- Fully immersive experiences
- Direct-to-avatar (D2A) sales
- Potential renovation to value proposition
- Revitalized VIP shopping
1. Fully immersive experiences
Digital stores are likely to be a staple of metaverse shopping. And brands will want to recreate as much as possible of the sensory experience – sights, sounds, touch – of real-life shopping to keep people coming back for more.
Some companies already have virtual showrooms today, but fully digital stores could take things to the next level, with 3D assets that people can view, try and buy, all within the metaverse. Consumers could even interact in real-time with store assistants (human or digital), asking them questions, purchasing goods or getting their recommendations.
But remember: the single biggest reason people say they would use the metaverse is to “experience things they can’t in physical reality”. So, pro tip from our recent webinar, take the metaverse and V-stores as an opportunity to do something different to what customers have done and experienced before.
2. Direct-to-avatar (D2A) sales
While it’s going to be possible to purchase products in the metaverse and have them physically delivered to your (real) home, there are also likely to be a lot of transactions that happen completely virtually.
D2A is a business model where brands sell virtual products direct to customers’ digital identities, meaning these items will only exist within the metaverse. Fashion designers, auto brands and other luxury retailers are already experimenting with digital-only collections, as more and more people look to develop online personas that reflect their real-life tastes and preferences.
Remember when a virtual Gucci bag sold in Roblox for more than the real-life version? Well, while the price tag might be an outlier, the medium is not. Three-quarters of Gen Z shoppers have purchased a digital item in a video game, with 60% saying brands should sell their products on metaverse platforms, too.
3. Potentially renovate the value prop
We said consumers will pay more for a great experience. And this is true across many different product types.
Take coffee for instance, US customers will pay, on average, 16% more for their cup of Joe if where they buy it from delivers a great experience, according to PwC. Even the price of a sports ticket or new cell phone plan can come with a big value uplift (13% and 8%, respectively). That is, if providers can make the buyers’ experience memorable.
For brands forced to compete on price, the boundless metaverse may finally allow them to compete on experience, giving more room for pricing maneuver.
4. Revitalized VIP shopping
Top customers could be treated to a range of VIP experiences in the metaverse, whether it’s meeting brand ambassadors, attending exclusive online events, receiving unique NFTs or getting first access to new products and services.
Conversely, Qatar Airways Qverse gives anyone a feel for what VIP, business or first-class air travel feels like – a window into an experience that’s otherwise only aspirational for most people.
We’re also likely to see eCommerce become more gamified in virtual worlds, which means there will be new ways to earn the VIP treatment other than just repeat purchases. Loyal customers could get rewards for spending a certain amount of time in a brand’s virtual store, for example, or even displaying branded products on their avatar.
These concepts are just the tip of the iceberg, and we expect to see some truly innovative ideas from retailers as they explore eCommerce in virtual worlds. But it’s not just about building the right environment, it’s about populating the metaverse with the right people too.
What digital humans will do for the eCommerce in the metaverse
Gaming is the closest thing we currently have to a metaverse. But who plays World of Warcraft to spend 8 hours a day being a bartender, a smith or a shopkeeper? The metaverse needs NPCs – scalable, always-on characters who can get things done. They need to be powered by AI, and they need personality.
The metaverse is likely to be a busy place. It’s already tough for brands to provide truly memorable human interactions that will keep consumers coming back for more in real life, let alone in a digital world that never closes its doors.
And while the fully realized metaverse may not be entirely ready today, digital humans are.
To blow our own trumpets for just a second, UneeQ digital humans have positively impacted everything from customer engagement (+300%) and online conversion rates (+92%) to reducing cart abandonment rates.
An AI-powered scalable workforce will simply be necessary for retailers in the metaverse. Not only are they available 24 hours a day, but they can be designed to embody a brand’s look, voice, values and messaging. They provide something that simply wasn’t previously possible in online environments, living up to the promise of increased immersion.
Friendly, conversational, consistent – digital humans in the metaverse are ready today… And today’s brands are catching up.
Preparing for eCommerce in the metaverse
It’s not easy to predict the next big thing.
Back in the 1940s, when televisions first began appearing in people’s homes, Twentieth Century Fox chief executive Darryl Zanuck didn’t think they’d catch on.
“People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” he said.
More recently, in 2007, then-CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer told USA Today there was “no chance” that the recently released iPhone was going to get “any significant market share”.
And remember when Will Smith wowed us with his stellar performance as Neo in The Matrix? No? That’s because he turned down the role after being unimpressed with how the directors pitched the film. He chose to appear in Wild Wild West instead. Whoops.
There are many reasons to believe the metaverse will be the next big thing in eCommerce.
After all, retail is the one industry other than gaming where Web 3.0 experimentation is happening the fastest. Consumers themselves say “shopping” is the activity they’re most interested in doing via immersive digital experiences. In reality, a huge number of brands are already preparing themselves for the metaverse.
Whether in retail or banking, healthcare or entertainment, the metaverse is an opportunity to do something different.
Or, as Roblox’s Christina Wooton succinctly put it: “Brands can push the boundaries of creativity in the metaverse and offer experiences that are unrepeatable in real life”. Now that sounds like a reality we want to be in – how about you?