A person wearing a VR headset. In front of them is a glowing graphic that reads 'metaverse'.

Ecommerce in the metaverse: the Digital Boutique jury is out

Digital Boutique
3 minutes
Thursday, November 25, 2021

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The immersive metaverse has the potential to bridge the gap between physical and digital shopping experiences. It could allow us to browse through the racks in a high-end boutique, have a consultation with our personal stylist or test drive a car – all from the comfort and convenience of our real-life homes.

But should it?

Beyond the novelty factor

Once the novelty of new tech fades, metaverse shopping experiences will have to deliver the same fundamentals as existing ecommerce sites: inspiration and convenience. It has the potential to do both but its complexity could get in the way.

Over-engineered essentials

Where a purchase is purely functional, we value speed and convenience above all. Until a metaverse store can outpace a high-performing ecommerce site, we’re unlikely to see a significant behavioural shift.

Imperfect experiences

There’s a reason physical stores still account for 74% of retail spend in the UK – we crave the sensory experience that currently only brick and mortar stores can offer. While the metaverse will close the gap, the technology is still a long way from offering a fully-equivalent experience to feeling the flow of fabric between your fingers or test-driving a car. Until that’s possible, a metaverse boutique is essentially a bloated ecommerce website. With bloat comes bugs, so it’s likely that the pain will outweigh the gain for customers in the short term.

Everywhere ecommerce

However, the metaverse also promises to take us far beyond what we currently understand, or can even imagine, as ecommerce. Facebook would have you believe it’s a separate world where everything, everywhere is for sale. Mastercard envisions something more akin to AR:

“Imagine you are having coffee with a friend in the park. She mentions a pair of sneakers she likes and suggests you might like them too. In an instant, a selection of sneakers flashes up into your peripheral vision. As the digital images float by, she details the style, allowing your AI assistant to fine-tune your selection. You see the sneakers she recommended but you don’t like some of the detailing. Your AI assistant copies them and opens up your customizer.”

Until we have a clearer vision of what the developments will be, it’s impossible to know what impact they’ll have on the future of ecommerce. We’ve seen from the slow growth of VR and AR that it takes more than declaring something as ‘the next frontier’ to make it true.  Over the past ten years, we’ve seen agencies bring in the talent capable of delivering on that bold vision, only to find that the projects didn’t follow. Until the majority of the customer base has a VR headset in their front room, few brands can justify the investment needed to create a virtual store.

In the meantime, the debate around the metaverse rages on. Do we need it? Will it destroy life as we know it? Our view: the metaverse doesn’t have to be the inception-style world Mark Zuckerburg would have us believe. And in fact, would be better if it wasn’t.

Customer-centred metacommerce

The metaverse can be an overwhelmingly positive development if we stick steadfastly to the principles of delivering a great customer experience. This means enhancing our real-world lives rather than removing us from them.

A human body being formed from pixels

For example, a simple body scan would allow us to log on to the metaverse to try on items virtually, so we can finally shop online with complete confidence. This would also reduce our environmental impact by eliminating real-world returns. And stores could use customer dimensions to create a personal styling service built into the very fabric of the website by recommending products to suit each customer’s particular shape and build. Familiar experiences, all made better by the opportunities immersive technology has to offer.

What can we learn from this right now?

Despite recent headlines, the metaverse isn’t here quite yet – the technology is still a way off. But we can apply some of the principles of creating a personalised digital world today. Instead of letting customers try on products in an immersive experience, introduce an interactive size guide that lets customers enter their measurements to get a size recommendation. Instead of letting customers design their own world, leverage AI to recommend the products they actually want to see. And improve overall visualisation by including more product videos and interactive customisation platforms.

Our verdict

The metaverse undoubtedly has the potential to detract from our lives, in the same way that social media has eroded many of the relationships it promised to build.

But by proceeding intelligently and with customers in mind, we believe we can find ecommerce opportunities within it that are equally beneficial to retailers and consumers – and that will enhance our real-world shopping experiences instead of replacing them.

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