Entering the metaverse 

Editor’s note: Kathleen Blum is the vice president, shopper insights of C+R Research. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “The Metaverse And What It Means For Shoppers

Many of us have heard of the metaverse, but very few of us know what it is, let alone all the other acronyms of AR, VR, MR and XR that may be tossed into discussions about it. So, let’s start to unpack some of these terms in bite-size pieces, so we can begin to understand why we need to pay attention to the metaverse. 

Explaining the metaverse

There are a variety of definitions used to describe what the metaverse is and will be. The reality is that this is the continued evolution of the internet accelerated by COVID when people found that gaming was a fun and interactive way to connect and socialize with people they couldn’t engage with in-person. In addition to being called the new internet, it is also called the convergence of virtual and physical realities or a digital twin of our own world. 

Shoppers enjoy digital presences

Shoppers already engage with digital mediums regularly and therefore find it easier to relate to brands that have a digital presence. Additionally, they also feel that a brand’s digital presence is just as important as its in-store, physical presence, prompting companies from various industries into a race to become part of the metaverse. 

Integrating the physical and digital shopper experience 

Shoppers are not quite ready to go fully digital and 83% of them believe the future of shopping is a hybrid – one that combines brick-and-mortar with digital. However, online shopping experiences are starting to look more like physical stores with benefits like borderless, creative, out-of-this-world experiences, while physical stores are adding digital overlays. 

A consumer using augmented reality to test a seating set up in their home using a tablet.

The shopping experience is blending into multiple on and offline channels and AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), MR (mixed reality) and XR (extended reality) are moving us in this direction. We’ve all seen the eyewear of virtual reality in various movies and may have experienced augmented reality when shopping for a chair that we get to see in our home or makeup we can virtually try on with our cameras; but we’ll be moving beyond that as the metaverse takes hold and moves digital from a 2D to 3D experience that takes our worlds into mixed and extended reality.  

Why should we stay aware of the metaverse?

It feels like the world is changing faster and faster, making it difficult to keep up. But it is important to understand that human motivations or shopper triggers remain generally stable over time, and what is changing rapidly is how/where we shop and what we buy. So, while humans don’t change overnight, their shopping behaviors can quickly adapt, as we just witnessed with COVID, and over time the means can begin to affect motivation. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that companies understand the metaverse and its potential impacts on shoppers. A large part of that is keeping a pulse on the shopper to understand the rate of change that they are comfortable with as well as milestones to look for that give clues as to when companies should accelerate or adjust their metaverse plans to meet shopper expectations.