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EDITORIAL Can the metaverse be good for business?

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3D and the metaverse are catching on. While there is a lot of hype around both augmented reality and its extension into a virtual world, retailers and consumers are both increasingly embracing both – out of curiosity for now, but this curiosity may well yet become tangible business.

Research of 1800 UK shoppers out this week suggests that 42% want to use augmented reality and the metaverse to find out more about products – to look at them, virtually, and to even try them out. This isn’t that surprising. 3D visualisation has a clear role to play with adding that real-world experience to the online milieu, making ‘flat’ online items come to live. This has obvious advantages for retailers and has an increasingly positive impact on customer experience – as demonstrated in this white paper published by InternetRetailing and Marxent.

This embrace of 3D augmented reality and the putative evolution of the metaverse is, however, starting to make in-roads into the real world of retail. In its simplest form, designer fashion house Marine Serre has launched a 3D visualisation tool with its latest collection for Spring 2022, citing that it will allow customers – many of whom have switched to online during the pandemic and have stayed that way – to examine the clothes as they would in a store. This, it believes, adds to the customer experience, but will lead to more sales – sales from shoppers that would not normally make it to the store, but have found the brand online.

Similarly, the food market in central Barcelona – La Boqueria, just off Las Ramblas – is experimenting with an augmented reality personal shopper concept, where remote shoppers are connected to a personal shopper at the market who, with their headset and some clever software, allow the shopper to feel and look at the food before they buy. The purchase itself also being doing virtually.

This interesting development links AR with the metaverse with the real world and in many ways looks to me very much like a glimpse of what the retail metaverse might actually look like: a simulacrum of the real world with AR overlays accessed remotely. This allows ecommerce to become more like a real-world experience, which can only be good user experience.

This rise in use of AR, 3D modelling and the metaverse is putting other strains on retailers. The need for the right product data, in the right format to make it useful through these new access channels, is becoming a real issue.

They need more data to make the experience better, but consumers are buying less and through an ever-growing bundle of channels that getting that data is difficult and expensive to manage.

Young people – who are the future of shopping, let’s not forget – are equally embracing augmented reality, through their preferred choice of shopping platform, TikTok. Here they turn to the social site for inspiration, but they now want that to come in new and exciting ways – including adding AR tools and, eventually you can be assured, the metaverse.

Easter is the first peak of the year and it is predicted to be a big spending session for many and it comes as how consumers shop is becoming ever-harder to predict, so anything that can improve customer experience across all channels is a good thing. Whether the metaverse and 3D is the answer remains to be seen, but it seems that consumers are starting to vote with their feet.

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