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COMMENT: How do retailers become the most successful cowboys in the Wild West of the metaverse?

By Duncan Roberts, senior manager, Cognizant Research

Just a few years ago, the metaverse was a “thought,” a theory of what might be possible in the digital future. In 2023, the question is no longer what you can do with the metaverse, but what you can’t. The metaverse, a digital world where we will soon be able to walk around and visit events, stores, and cafés, still feels like a digital canvas onto which we can project anything.

In fact, according to research firm Gartner, a quarter of people will spend at least an hour a day in the Metaverse by 2026. This offers a significant opportunity for retailers to devise strategies to connect with consumers that are willing to test new technologies and ways of engaging. Here are four tips and considerations for building such a strategy.

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Lay a solid foundation

Organisations will continue to identify opportunities in the metaverse over the coming years that they feel should be taken advantage of with new applications. But while it’s important to jump on opportunities where appropriate, retailers must also remember not to think in defined opportunities and use cases when it comes to the metaverse. Building one app for one platform can exclude many potential customers.

So, for every investment a business makes, they should ensure they’re asking themselves whether they are building a scalable solution that is suitable for all kinds of applications and platforms.

Above all, create new experiences

When Henry Ford built his ‘Model T’ car, he (reportedly) said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they’d simply ask for a faster horse. Ford realised that the general public doesn’t ask for truly ground-breaking innovations because many find it difficult to imagine what’s possible beyond simply bigger and better than what they already have. It’s therefore down to businesses to show their customers what’s possible by giving them new experiences.

For the metaverse, this means going above and beyond simply generating digital copies of what already exists in the physical world. Retailers must find ways to reinvent their offerings with new applications. For example, they can look beyond simply creating a clothing shop and fitting rooms in the metaverse and instead consider creating a metaverse exclusive collection, which can be revealed to customers in a digital fashion show. Attendees could be given an NFT as a gift and retailers could create digital networking or marketplace events afterwards where they can show off their purchases, exchange NFTs, and so on.

Choose the right platform per application

The metaverse will soon be accessible from any platform or device each of which have their own group of users and present an opportunity to reach new audiences. It’s important that retailers consider this when innovating new applications for the metaverse to ensure that each campaign has its own purpose and target audience. For example, retailers with an aim of increasing brand awareness will require a different application and experience (one that acts as a first touchpoint) to those looking to increase sales, which need another layer in the marketing funnel.

Ultimately, whatever the campaign, it’s crucial that retailers carefully consider where their audience is, what device they’re using and what their options are in the metaverse. For example, does the average visitor have VR glasses on? Or are they scrolling on a smartphone on the train? Above all, it’s important that retailers don’t think too narrowly and ensure each campaign and application can lay the groundwork for future ones, without having to return to the drawing board each time.

Meet – and raise – the ethical standard

The metaverse truly is the new Wild West. Regulations and rules are still being discussed and confirmed, meaning that it’s rarely clear what businesses can and can’t do. For the time being, this is one of the biggest barriers to retailers adopting the platform as part of their customer experience and sales strategies. For the time being, any retailers that are already in the metaverse need to think carefully about how they behave there. Perhaps the most crucial advice is to ensure the privacy of any visitors and customers in order to guarantee their digital safety. It’s also important to be transparent and, above all, ethical.

Planning a future in the metaverse

To be successful in the metaverse, retailers need a whole new set of considerations, planning, skills and the courage to invest. Organisations waiting for a complete ‘how to’ guide will be waiting some time and may find they fall behind competitors that are willing to take the leap. While a daunting prospect for many, the metaverse offers new opportunities that it would be a shame for retailers to miss out on – it could even impact the success of their future.

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