Retailers and brands must build immersive commerce into their budgets and think about virtual selling organizationally, creating specific line items for experiential ecommerce initiatives.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have already brought the virtual shopping experience to life, allowing consumers to explore and browse virtual stores in much the same way they do physical stores.
At the same time, faster 5G network speeds and improvements in mobile hardware and graphic rendering software now make immersive mobile interfaces possible.
Strong consumer and industry demand for metaverse experiences will only continue to drive technology advances and the adoption of immersive commerce experiences.
Reaching Gen Z With Immersion and the Metaverse
“Having a three- to five-year plan for metaverse initiatives is key,” explained Neha Singh, founder and CEO of Obsess. “Brands will also have to keep an eye on the technology that allows this space to evolve to see what developments align most closely with their own values, business models and target audiences and invest in those areas accordingly.”
She said Obsess recently conducted a consumer survey that found that some 60% of Gen Zers think brands should sell their products on metaverse platforms. The survey also discovered that digitally native millennials and Gen Zers who grew up interacting with videogames, e-sports and social media expect the ability to shop on any online platform they visit.
“Consumer demand for interactive online experiences also skyrocketed during the pandemic,” Singh added. “That demand encompassed entertainment, gaming, fitness and, of course, shopping.”
She said both factors make it crucial for brands to offer immersive virtual commerce experiences that differentiate themselves from competitors and allow customers to connect whenever and wherever they want.
“It’s crucial for retail companies to maintain their core branding, values and image as they expand into the metaverse, across any and all immersive virtual experiences they create,” Singh said. “Many brands see virtual stores as simply another extension of their physical store presence.
From her perspective, offering a holistic brand experience and seamlessly connecting online and offline is the key to delivering a great omnichannel experience.
Noam Levavi, co-founder and CEO of ByondXR, agreed, explaining that when deploying immersive commerce strategies, thinking about market definition is critical.
“You should know your target audience and define key KPIs to analyze and continuously measure and optimize,” he said. “Utilize platforms that can help with both deployment of immersive commerce and also scale quickly to new markets and personalized environments."
Levavi recommended implementing a holistic store strategy that comprises gamification, live stream, virtual try-ons and other important features that engage customers and increase sales. “Gaming is another intersection for branding and immersive experiences,” he explained.
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Build Immersive Commerce Experiences to Remain Competitive
Tuong Nguyen, senior research principal analyst at Gartner, pointed out that unique, repeatable value is important. That means for e-retailers, it's important to take a close look at what you're providing to customers that they can’t get through traditional experiences.
“Is there value beyond the novelty of immersive itself?” Nguyen said. “Think of immersive experiences as another tool in a toolbox to use to engage with customers.” He added that to have a comprehensive toolset, businesses should use immersive experiences to remain competitive and better engage with their users.
“Immersive is an interface or experience,” Nguyen explained. “It’s important because this will increasingly be how consumers interact with products and brands. This doesn’t imply it will replace or displace other ways to engage with consumers, but it will offer retailers additional avenues to engage their customers.”
Singh said that as retail companies experiment with novel ways to sell, reach new consumer audiences and drive sustainability, interactive shopping experiences will become table stakes for brands in every category.
“We’re quickly moving toward online store environments that can be personalized for shoppers in real-time and that will feel even more sensorially rich and immersive than physical store environments,” she said. “Companies are already building and hosting branded, 3D virtual worlds on their own websites and these spaces will also live on metaverse platforms in the near future.”
By creating visually unique virtual planets, islands, stores and more, forward-thinking brands present products in a discovery-driven manner that’s never been possible online.
Singh predicted that at some point, the word “metaverse” itself will fall out of common use, just like “cyberspace” has over time.
“We’ll all just think of — and refer to — this immersive online space as ‘the internet’ rather than as some separate part or next generation of it,” Singh said. “For brands, having a carefully crafted presence in this virtual world will be as important as having a basic e-commerce website is today.”
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Hardware Evolution Needs to Match Speed of Software
Nguyen added that hardware and software “absolutely” need to evolve to make immersive commerce more widely adopted.
“What this past decade of immersive has brought us is commercially available solutions,” he said. “But we’re still early in the maturity, so we have many purpose-built, high-touch solutions. We need more general-purpose, easy to use and deploy, scalable products for enterprises to deploy.”Levavi agreed that while the software is progressing well, the challenge is mainly with immersive devices like the glasses.
“There are still deep technical challenges that the big tech companies are trying to resolve on the lenses, like shrinking all components and sensors, as well as better computing power and batteries," he said. "The second challenge is the fact that there is a huge lack of quality content. All the technological features lose their appeal without engaging content.”