Will the Metaverse really change retail in 2023?


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Wednesday 17 May 2023 15:20 BST
<p>In the simplest terms, the metaverse is the internet in 3D</p>

In the simplest terms, the metaverse is the internet in 3D

Manhattan Associates is a Business Reporter client.

At the end of 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced the end of social media as we knew it: the Metaverse would be the next era-defining technological shift. Fast-forward to today, however, and retailers are still slowly feeling their way into this space.

In the simplest terms, the Metaverse is the internet in 3D. Futurists have eulogised the potential benefits of its revolutionary potential for the future of work, retail or larger societal issues.

As is often the case with emerging technology, however, there are many questions that remain: not least, what actually is it in practical terms?

Questions aside, one thing is clear: the Metaverse is still being defined. If you asked ten different people in the street (or even within Meta itself), you’ll get ten different answers. Given the early stage of the innovation curve the Metaverse finds itself at, another thing is equally clear – it isn’t going to happen overnight either.

With the challenging retail industry backdrop across much of Europe and North America, retailers need to concentrate on their margins, workforces and customers. Customers certainly aren’t up to speed with the idea yet, so while it remains an interesting concept right now, it may be some time until we have a fully functioning Metaverse with mass consumer appeal and uptake.

Gen Z shoppers are more interested in bricks and mortar or omnichannel retail experiences. But while they might not use it the Metaverse as a platform for purchasing, there is certainly interest in it as an experiential destination that might later start a buying journey. It’s an exciting opportunity to share more about products with customers, and retailers may find themselves overlapping and complementing styles non-competitive brands.

As the Metaverse evolves, it’s consumers who will define what it actually ends up looking like and how retail brands will interact with it, though. But though it’s still a little early to quantify what effect the Metaverse will have over the next decade, digital spaces in general are set to become more immersive – and the Metaverse is set to be a part of this. More innovative, agile retailers are already investing in technology such as augmented reality, virtual showrooms, live shopping, 3D product views and video shopping consultations.

Until very recently the e-commerce experience has been transactional, rather one-dimensional, and largely concerned with cutting friction. The idea that we can make this experience more immersive, with a greater ability for discovery, curation and interaction, is maybe where the true value lies in the long term.

For the Metaverse to take off, it has to make physical life better, cheaper, faster and more connected. When you think about it, that’s exactly what the internet has done for billions of people around the globe. But today, consumers crucially want convenience as well as fun. The Metaverse represents the opportunity for “shoppertainment” that’s built on an enhanced customer experience.

According to Manhattan’s 2022 Omnichannel research report, 82 per cent of consumers surveyed across Europe and North America said they started purchasing decisions online in some capacity. Which could mean that rather than becoming the next-generation shopping platform or digital marketplace, as Mr Zuckerberg is no doubt betting on, maybe the Metaverse will gain more initial traction with retail brands and consumers as a starting point for their shopping journeys.

Just like the internet has done over the past three decades, the Metaverse presents a myriad of opportunities, and risks, for retailers and consumers alike. Whether it’s today or a decade from now, the keys to retail success remain the same: listen and communicate clearly with customers regardless of the channel, and continue to innovate. But just as the keys to success remain the same, so too do the risks of inaction.

The Metaverse won’t replace physical or online stores anytime soon, if at all. However, in years to come, it may increasingly sit alongside today’s omnichannel retail offering, as a complementary part of an increasingly immersive, 3D digital retail experience.

Maybe you can’t wait years for the Metaverse to mature into a more tangible channel, and want to understand more about some of the key retail trends shaping the omnichannel space today. If that’s you, get in touch with the team at Manhattan Associates to find out more today.

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