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EDITORIAL How the dark days of January bring light to better customer experiences and the metaverse

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Happy New Year. As the dust settles on festivities attention turns to the challenges ahead in 2023. The exact impact of the cost of living crisis, inflation, global politics and energy prices remains unclear. However, the uncertainty and caution that all this brings – coupled with the traditional January moderation – makes for concern among retailers. 

What is certain is that early 2023 will see some declines in sales and footfall – the question is by how much will it slow and for how long? This not only impacts cash flow and immediate sales, but it also has a knock on effect on retailer strategy and the implementation of changes, both structural and technical, that many will be forced to introduce. 

Much of the pre-Christmas forecasting we published over the holidays points to the need for better customer experience online as being the biggest key to staying competitive in the months ahead. From slicker check-out experiences, to more social and engaged marketing, right through to how the metaverse and metaverse-like experiences will attract consumers, retailers face the challenge of meeting customer demands that have accelerated beyond what to date has constituted a good online shopping experience.

Now it is all about engagement, content, shareable experiences and understanding how these all fit into a much more complex path to purchases that weaves across channels and devices and which dallies with looking for inspiration, offering inspiration and doling out advice and help. 

How to engage and leverage this level of UGC across multiple channels and platforms is perhaps the biggest challenge that retailers face this year – and it is a challenge that, no matter how reluctant they may be, they have to rise to. Customers are no longer just ‘the money’, now they are also your biggest advocates – and detractors – and they need to be sated. 

News this week that, among online consumer electronics buyers, interest in buying in the metaverse has grown is a fine example of this. According to a 400-person study conducted by future retail agency Outform to identify shopping behaviours in the consumer electronics category, nearly half (45%) of consumer electronic shoppers who are open to the metaverse believe exploring and evaluating products through it will be the future of shopping. More than four-in-ten (41%) say that it’s the most convenient way to shop going forward.

While the metaverse may not be for everyone, this attitude among consumers that they want better, newer and more immersive ways to interact with retailers is going to shape retail in 2023. It will also usher in the metaverse and metaverse-like experiences of online shopping in a far more rapid way than many naysayers may think. No, we won’t all be wearing VR headsets, but many of us will find brand and retailer websites offering a more immersive – albeit flat screen – way to shop and evaluate items.

Couple this with the need to share, advise and proselytise on social media and it is clear that those brands and retailers that can create these kinds of experiences – and make doing so convenient and simple as well as novel and fun – will steal a march on those that don’t.

It won’t be for everyone, but the beginnings of a new era in online retail interfaces is upon us and the competitiveness of a downturn will only seek to accelerate this – and for that we should be grateful.

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