The future of retail: Customer experience in the metaverse

Discover the new, immersive customer experience

The metaverse and Web3 will propel us into a new future of retail customer experience (CX), expanding the breadth and depth of customer interactions. Many retailers are capitalizing on the opportunity and moving into the next phase of CX in the metaverse.

What’s possible with the metaverse

There are those who believe the hype cycle is over, and they feel the weight of more pressing concerns such as significant supply chain challenges and muted consumer spending. There is no doubt that these critical challenges must be addressed quickly, yet retailers can’t afford to stop innovating across their business with Web3 technologies. In 1995, a Newsweek article suggested the internet was just hype and that “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher, and no computer network will change the way government works.”1 Now is not the time to file the metaverse away but rather to discover the benefits of the metaverse.

Imagine how the metaverse can transform the retail customer experience: Consumer Luke is preparing for a summer vacation and doesn’t know what to pack. What if, instead of visiting a retailer to try on outfits, Luke could enter the metaverse to get real-time inspiration, visit his favorite retailer, and make a purchase after virtually trying on a new look? All of this will be possible, transforming an often time-intensive chore into a fully immersive virtual adventure.

Retailers already have the ability to offer the type of shopping experience such as Luke had in the metaverse. This may become a new normal for commerce: Fully immersive virtual shopping trips that reduce friction, save time, and stimulate consumer emotions while allowing retailers to capture important data points in a customer’s journey.

Retail experiences can be dramatically enhanced

Many retailers express frustration over the limitations on how frequently and directly they engage with customers. While brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce sites, and mobile apps provide significant touchpoints, they fall short of enabling retailers to reach consumers at all influential moments. The metaverse will provide more than just an additional shopping platform—it is also a means to reach consumers in ways that were previously inaccessible to retailers, allowing them to do so in more captivating ways. One leading augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) provider, ByondXR, has noted a 400% increase in customer engagement in the custom immersive shopping experiences they have developed for their retail clients.2 With a Statista study showing that 74% of adults in the United States have joined or are considering joining the metaverse,3 it seems almost inevitable that the opportunity to wow the customer in new and exciting ways will grow exponentially.

The added benefit that the metaverse provides to the shopping journey is relative to both breadth and depth of experience. Retailers can now meet consumers during moments in their days that were previously unattainable. This goes far beyond the much-hyped virtual retail storefronts, which still require consumers to make an active choice to shop. Now, retailers can engage customers outside of shopping experiences through curated digital content in virtual environments or by using AR via a mobile device. An example is Nikeland in Roblox, where players can interact with Nike-branded virtual goods through activities and games and even attend a clinic with Lebron James on the Nikeland court, inspiring physical activity.4 A different type of example relates to purchases: Interaction with a purchased item is no longer limited to the physical product’s life cycle and can last long after the utility of the item ends through pairing with non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The depth of immersion for retail experiences will also rise dramatically. The ability for retailers to craft more realistic and complex interactions that are designed to stimulate emotions will improve even at the touchpoints that retailers already engage customers. Imagine AR capabilities that layer on top of the in-store experience, perhaps showing a shopper as they look at one item they might want to buy, how the product was made, and its carbon footprint. This experience could be delivered through the shopper’s mobile device or, as metaverse-relevant hardware costs decrease,5 through other devices provided to customers in a store.

The metaverse will provide more than just an additional shopping platform—it is also a means to reach consumers in ways that were previously inaccessible to retailers.

The metaverse and deeper knowledge

The metaverse also can enhance experiences by enabling a more holistic picture of the customer, providing deeper knowledge about behaviors and preferences. Given the expanded touchpoints, retailers will have more direct and extensive data that can be used to influence buying decisions. The metaverse will provide a window to observe customers in new formats. An example would be a retailer analyzing a shopper’s avatar gestures as they navigate a digital store, taking note of what captures their attention and what motivates shifts. Data collected in the metaverse will enable a self-sustaining loop that utilizes customer data to then improve the customer experience for those organizations that can act on new insights. Those insights can inform greater personalization at more traditional touchpoints.

The models described will also enable areas, such as loyalty, that are top of mind today for retailers. Imagine a leading apparel brand that offers a loyalty program. Its highest-tier loyalty membership comes with an NFT that provides access to exclusive pop-ups and product releases. Deloitte’s 2022 Loyalty Consumer Survey showed that 30% of participants are likely to start spending at a brand or retailer whose loyalty program offers NFTs as a form of reward.6 While Web3-enabled loyalty programs can drive brand affinity for retailers, additional metaverse-specific marketing techniques, such as live product demos in digital stores, are also available for brands to employ today. These fully engaging, immersive experiences go deeper than what retailers traditionally offer and are instrumental in the next generation of customer experience.

E-commerce is another focus area that can be enhanced through metaverse and Web3 technologies. One challenge faced by retailers is e-commerce returns, which more than double what retailers experience when purchases are made in brick-and-mortar stores.7 Not only are returns more frequent for e-commerce, but they are also more expensive as many retailers cover the cost of shipping. How can the metaverse help? In the apparel category, Shopify found that issues related to size, fit, and style drive 72% of returns7. AR is already offering ways to improve sizing with realistic mechanisms for virtual try-on. In addition, the ability for customers to envision themselves in a piece of apparel will enhance the likelihood that they will be satisfied when the merchandise arrives.

The metaverse also can enhance experiences by enabling a more holistic picture of the customer, providing deeper knowledge about behaviors and preferences.

Next-gen retail customer experience in the metaverse is here

These new ways of retail engagement in the metaverse may seem far off, but the experiences are already well underway. They will enhance many of the critical retail shifts that so many are focused on—loyalty and e-commerce—but also the choices made by merchandising, marketing, and supply chain to unlock new opportunities. It’s time to stake your claim in the metaverse and shape the next generation of customer experiences.

Special thanks to Julia Buckman, Audrey Adam, and Luke Flaherty for their authorship, support, and research throughout the development of this article.

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