The metaverse is gaining momentum across the world, ushering in a new era of digital connectivity that will ultimately include a different web network with 3D virtual worlds. According to Bloomberg, the metaverse will capture $800 billion in market share by 2024 as it converges at the intersection of ecommerce, social commerce, gaming, web 3.0 and the creator economy while a wave of new digital platforms will see consumers and businesses trading virtually.

Conceptually, the metaverse has been around for some time but only recently have brands and retailers started experimenting with virtual selling technologies. Virtual selling experiences are starting to take shape using augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain trading functions such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

For brands like Nike, who recently launched Nikeland, a metaverse-like environment built within gaming platform Roblox, it is an opportunity to elevate their brand offering with highly immersive 3D shopping experiences where customers can get a taste for designing and purchasing virtual branded Nike merchandise including sneakers and apparel.

Brands are also starting to collaborate together in the metaverse, with the first Metaverse Fashion Week launching in March. The 3D virtual event was hosted on Decentraland and was an opportunity for consumers to engage virtually with a number of mainstream fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana and Estee Lauder, who created avatars to model clothing that could then be purchased using NFT’s.

While there is no question that virtual reality technology has a long way to go, as computer capabilities become more powerful and less pixilated, and new digital platforms including Web3 infrastructure are launched, the immersive sensory experience will only improve.

In the meantime, brands should start thinking about how they can leverage today’s digital technologies to prepare for the future of retail which will eventually include the metaverse.

While the technology for 3D virtual worlds is still in development, metaverse concepts are already here and are being enthusiastically embraced by retailers. Across every sector, brands are creating interactive experiences where consumers can interact with products digitally, whether that is online through a website, a smart phone app or on social media platforms.

With brands selling products across a number of ecommerce sites, digital experience is becoming increasingly important. As more buyers search and purchase products online, they need to be confident that audiences are viewing the latest product information regardless of what site they are on.

To make this process easier, CROSSMARK has been working with digital content syndication specialists Flixmedia to offer a service that automatically updates product information across every website using innovative software and great retailer relationships. The content syndication service saves brands an incredible amount of time by not having to update information manually or worry about inaccuracies.

Flixmedia’s software is also compatible with emerging technology and augmented media including video and AR files and can even be used to update product information strategically, such as for special offers and promotions.

Digital experiences are now so entrenched, they are considered a standard retail offering. However, the next challenge that retailers will need to overcome as technology improves, will be how they augment the immersive and sensory experiences with physical store environments.

The growth of brand influencers on virtual selling platforms

With increasing consumer demand for digital retail experiences, social media channels promoting brand ambassadors and influencers will continue their meteoritic trajectory. Highly immersive video platforms such as TikTok are generating huge reach. The impact of this engagement can be seen particularly in China which is leading the world in social selling where livestreaming events are taking the country by storm.

Locally referred to in China as digital idols or humans (that seem real), livestreaming ambassadors are used to promote an extensive range of products. They connect with fans through platforms such as Weibo, Douyin (Chinese Tik Tok) and YouTube, capturing enormous online followings and revenue streams.

In some ways, these hyper engaged social selling events are not too dissimilar to a current day metaverse, where consumers are able to immerse themselves in live product demonstrations, supported by customer service bots that encourage direct customer interaction during the event.

While livestreaming selling is immensely popular in China, it remains to be seen whether the trend takes hold in other countries such as Australia. It is something that retail specialists like CROSSMARK are watching closely as the company expands into the digital content and ecommerce logistics space. 

While TikTok is leading the way today due to its incredibly immersive format, brands must also be prepared for a new wave of digital platforms that will sit on the precipice of the metaverse and take social selling to a whole new virtual world.

Tips for retailers to consider when traversing the metaverse

  • Track your customer’s behaviour

Retailers need to think strategically when developing social selling strategies, by using data to understand what channels their customers are in and how they are buying their products.

  • Create immersive experiences

Fun and interactive shopping experiences using augmented reality or facial recognition technology.

  • Personalise customer service

Virtual selling using highly personalised experiences is anticipated to surpasses that of in-store sales assistants.  While metaverse avatars are years away, retailers can consider adopting video consultations and interactive chat bots to capture customers and secure sales opportunities.

  • Leverage brand ambassadors

While key opinion leaders (KOLs) have catapulted themselves into the digital stratosphere, becoming incredibly powerful sales advocates for brands seeking to drive revenue through social media, micro-influencers and dedicated brand ambassadors can be equally beneficial for companies seeking authentic brand advocates.

Andy Kirk is CEO of CROSSMARK.