Tech-heads, digital marketers and regular internet users alike are speculating about the possibilities for expanding our current online activities into the VR/AR realm.
But all this is a *little* overwhelming. New vocab and acronyms have seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. WTF is an NFT? What does all this have to do with cryptocurrency? Will I be able to sell my genius memes? And why would I want to buy something that has no physical form?
And the big one. Is this really the future of the internet, or just Facebook’s attempt to claw back profits from Apple’s limitations on tracking?
Before we get into the metaverse’s potential for advertising, it’s best we get back to basics.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Metaverse For Dummies
“Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won't substantially change.”Eric Ravenscraft, Wired.
Put simply, the word doesn’t actually refer to a new piece of technology, but more towards a shift in the way we interact with existing technologies.
Essentially, ‘metaverse’ is a code word for an online paradigm shift.
It’s formed of experiences that already exist and are accessible through VR headsets, live videogame platforms like Fortnite, and other AR technologies combining the digital and physical worlds. In the metaverse, we'll just approach and utilise them in a different way. Namely, all together at once.
As it stands, features like Snapchat lenses, Instagram live filters, interactive RPGs, live chats and more, exist but are exclusively limited to the platforms that conceived them. A metaverse paradigm shift would free them up, making them available on an interplatform basis, all accessible via a streamlined user-experience.
The major ‘meta concept’ that is being thrown around is a digital avatar persona that you take with you on all your interactions across the web, rather than having a different profile for every site. Think of it a bit like having the same profile pic and bio on every social media platform, just automatically following you in 3D, and with a higher level of customisation.
This is where e-commerce comes in. Customisation of these avatars, and by extension the creation of an online persona (or perhaps even personal brand), will be fuelled by the purchase of virtual items like clothing, vehicles, and other accessories that have functional and decorative uses online.
If all this is reminding you of your Moshi Monsters/Club Penguin days, when that much-coveted paid membership really made you feel a class above the rest, we relate. However, if your parents were anything like mine, they were hesitant to “throw away money on something that doesn’t even exist in the real world” (you’ll never understand, Mum 😒).
Will be people have the same attitude towards the metaverse?
You Already Live in the Metaverse
Where the metaverse is looking to differ in the respect to spending potential, is in its fundamental links to physical reality.
The internet is no longer an external playground with no grounding or consequences in our ‘real’ lives. In fact, many of its platforms and features are essential to our everyday existence. Think banking, shopping, investing, exercising, socialising, healthcare, work, travel, online events and concerts, Zoom classes… the list goes on.
In essence, people can no longer afford to just quit the internet entirely. If the web were to go full meta, the market for the online avatars and virtual goods required to navigate it would boom.
It’s certainly looking like this may come to fruition, and sooner than you may think. Major players in the online landscape from Snap to Meta and beyond are all working on the infrastructure that could one day realise a fully formed and integrated metaverse.
“Get in, Loser, We’re Going Meta-shopping”
Just as the metaverse is the next incarnation of the internet, meta-commerce is the next incarnation of e-commerce.
While we aren’t quite at the ‘virtual avatar clothed in virtual clothing that does all your virtual bidding’ phase of the metaverse, virtual commerce does exist. Its ties to reality are perhaps just a little more tangible (for now).
Virtual stores aim to add the aspects of ‘real shopping’ that regular e-commerce neglects, back into the online shopping experience. Soon, they’ll be the metaverse platforms of the future.
“From physical stores, they borrow immersive, visually appealing experiences for both entertainment and utility; from e-commerce, they borrow convenience and data.” - Vogue Business
The intrepid explorers of this new e-commerce territory have so far tended to be luxury fashion houses, take Burberry for example.
Launched earlier this year, their virtual pop-up, based on their flagship store in Ginza, Japan, features computer-rendered versions of real items, available for browsing, try on and purchase. (If you buy, you do receive the physical item, btw).
While designer fashion houses’ attempts at metaverse-style commerce come across as more of a marketing stunt to the average spender, they could mark the start of a new virtual high street experience.
Technology is making shopping feel more futuristic, but also more nostalgic, harking back to the roots of malls and high streets. 3D, photorealistic virtual stores inject sociality and intuition back into the consumer journey. Ironically, the virtualisation of shopping could be what restores its human touch.
WWD even predicts that one day soon, shoppers and their avatars “will be able to choose who they want to invite to a private shopping outing in a virtual store and interact with influencers and sales associates via video or avatars in the immersive environment.”
Certainly, in Meta’s corner, plans for meta-commerce infrastructure are already underway. According to Forbes, the artist formerly known as Facebook has hinted it is working closely with long term e-commerce partner, Shopify to explore the possibilities of selling physical and digital products via AR/VR.
Welcome to the Metaverse
It’s easy to get carried away when we picture a ‘metaversian’ future. Promo videos from the likes of Meta and Microsoft feature holograms and other technologies that are simply not feasible currently, and may never be. While advancements are happening, there’s no guarantee that VR and AR tech will become advanced enough to achieve the level of commonality as, for example, the smartphone. These kinds of technologies rarely advance on a linear trajectory.
The metaverse as we understand it now just means the next phase of the internet’s growth, whatever that may bring. It’s likely that as the phenomenon develops, the word itself will become obsolete, just as terms like ‘cyberspace’ and ‘worldwide web’ are only used in a novelty sense today.
However, e-commerce brands will need to be prepared to adapt to changes in the needs and desires of their audience, whatever form they take. Gen Z is only just coming into its own, and as the spending power of these digital natives increases, their expectations are set to define the future of e-commerce.
Will Your Brand Survive the Metaverse Shift?
You’ll need the help of an agency that always has its fingers on the pulse of the e-commerce and digital world. dmt’s cross-platform approach is ever-adapting, testing new ways of advertising your brand via Paid Social, PPC and Email marketing. Get in touch to find out more.