Without virtual reality (VR), the metaverse is simply another website, however, with new VR devices being released daily, brands are optimistic that the often-discussed metaverse will begin to see widespread adoption.
If and when that happens, will VR be the catalyst for an exceptional customer experience?
Let’s look at how VR can enhance and improve customers’ journeys as they explore the brave new world of the metaverse as well as the challenges VR poses for brands.
What Do Consumers Expect From CX in the Metaverse?
According to a new report from Talkdesk, 51% of respondents expect customer service to be better in digital worlds, and 27% believe it will be easier to access product or brand information in the metaverse.
Additionally, 27% of respondents believe it will be more effective and interactive to get assistance from an omnichannel metaverse avatar rather than engaging with a chatbot online, and 32% believe the metaverse will provide less frustration and anxiety than calling and talking to a customer service agent.
Consumers already have plans to use the metaverse in the near future. A 2022 report from Gartner research revealed 25% of respondents will spend at least one hour each day in the metaverse by 2026, working, shopping, going to school, engaging in social activities and enjoying entertainment.
The report also indicated that by 2026, 30% of brands will have products and services ready for the metaverse.
According to a 2022 NielsenIQ report, consumers also identified ecommerce as one of the key reasons for potential engagement in the metaverse and said they were interested in browsing, buying and selling goods in a virtual marketplace.
What Does VR Bring to the Table?
Virtual Reality enables users to have a three-dimensional experience where they are immersed in and interact with 3-D worlds. Fully immersive VR is the most realistic simulation experience and allows users to feel like they are in a different world.
Although users know they are using VR equipment to experience the alternate world, the mind is fooled so that it seems to be actually occurring. Using two identical images, VR tricks the user’s brain into perceiving a sense of depth and accepting the illusion presented by the multidimensional image.
Because the rules of physics do not apply to VR experiences, users can fly, walk underwater, teleport from place to place, leap to the top of buildings and otherwise do things that would be impossible in real life.
Navdeep Mundi, professor at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, told CMSWire the metaverse is developing improved-use cases around gaming, entertainment, work collaboration, social media, virtual worlds, education and fitness along with several industrial applications — and all of these applications will drive customer journeys and adoption using VR.
“As brands move into the metaverse, we can expect unique customer experiences through immersive and shareable experiences to enhance overall omnichannel strategies in unique and meaningful ways,” said Professor Mundi.
“With a projected 1 billion users by 2030, XR (extended reality) is fast becoming a necessity in every brand’s roadmap,” she explained, adding this will likely be most evident across retail and entertainment brands — two verticals that will focus on lifelike experiences and drive brand awareness and loyalty.
Related Article: Augmented Reality, Experimentation, Ecommerce and Your Customer Base
How Brands Can Use VR in the Metaverse?
A virtual environment provides brands with opportunities to create unique emotionally positive experiences customers are unlikely to have ever had. Professor Mundi said there are three ways VR can be used to radically enhance the customer journey:
Engage the brand’s customer base: Offer customers a unique experience and allow users to cross over into alternative worlds, transcending physical and temporal spaces and boundaries. Customers will be able to shop at virtual stores and get 360-degree views and personalized options that can’t be replicated in a physical location or be exclusive to the metaverse.
Nurture emotional connections with customers: Immersive VR technology will enable brands to educate and delight customers by creating a wide range of immersive content in customer experiences, which will help enhance the overall experience and build brand loyalty.
Interactive customer support: VR technology will be able to provide real-time support throughout the customer’s journey. Experiences such as product instructions, virtual try-ons and showrooms and personalized suggestions will improve a seamless customer experience quickly and efficiently and simplify the purchase process.
“VR technology is likely to enable efficient data capture, evaluation and analysis, monitoring and control and supports decision-making across the entire customer journey,” said Mundi.
“This data aggregation will be quick and convenient for customers before, at and after purchase,” she said, adding it is also likely to revolutionize product trial, imaginations of product usage as well as the entire customer consumption experience.
Anastasiia Gliebova, CEO and co-founder at V-Art, a VR services and digital-content licensing service, told CMSWire that VR will help the metaverse grow and create highly engaging customer experiences. Gliebova said VR will also help brands “adapt more quickly to digital worlds that can offer a more cost-effective and faster way to create and hold virtual events like fashion shows, art collection gallery openings, gaming competitions, comedy shows — and much more.”
She said VR also enables brands to more fully track and measure the customer experience journey, including customers’ product feedback.
The Challenges Brands Face With VR
There are challenges for brands seeking entry into the VR metaverse. VR comes with a high cost of entry for both brands and consumers.
Cheaper VR headsets are typically limited in their functionality or are used in conjunction with high-end PCs, and top-of-the-line stand-alone VR headsets that enable “full immersion” are still prohibitively expensive for many consumers.
Prices as of September 2022 for VR headsets vary from retailer to retailer, but can typically be found at the following prices:
Oculus Quest 2: $599
Meta Quest 2: $399
HP Reverb G2: $399
Sony Playstation VR: $349
Valve Index VR: $999
HTC Vive Pro 2: $1295
Apple VR/AR: $2000 - $2500 (projected cost)
For brands seeking to create VR experiences for consumers in the metaverse, the costs typically involve purchasing virtual real estate, along with the creation of virtual buildings, digital twins and an investment in the virtual economy of the metaverse such as the creation of direct-to-avatar (D2A) goods, events, etc.
Another issue is the majority of metaverse worlds today do not support VR. The Sandbox, which is a popular virtual world, does not support VR, and has no immediate plans to do so, nor does Decentraland, another popular metaverse world.
Very few, such as Somnium Space and Meta’s Horizon Worlds, actually support VR, however, for VR to transform the metaverse, those virtual worlds that support VR must also support multiple VR headsets. Horizon Worlds, for instance, only supports Oculus headsets.
Low customer adoption also continues to be a challenge. According to a 2022 Insider Intelligence report, 66.8 million people used VR at least once per month in the United States and is forecasted to reach over 75 million users in 2025.
When one compares this to the number of monthly active social media users in the United States in 2022 (270 million according to The Global Statistics), it’s easy to see VR still has a long way to go before the majority of the population uses it — if ever.
Additionally, there is still a lack of compelling VR/metaverse applications available for consumers, particularly for people who are not into gaming. For gamers, there are virtual worlds such as The Sandbox, Roblox, NVIDIA Omniverse and Decentraland, but for a generation that grew up with game consoles and high-end graphics, these virtual worlds seem rather retro, reminiscent of the graphics from ’90s gaming worlds.
5G may be the technology that will remove this limitation, but for now, the majority of VR applications, including metaverse worlds, are not mobile.
The Takeaway: VR Could Transform the Metaverse
Virtual Reality has the potential to transform the metaverse from conceptual to widespread adoption and change the ways consumers interact with brands.
Using VR, brands will be able to sell digital twins of their products as well as D2A products, host virtual events and provide virtual sales and customer service agents to interact with customers in real time.
Although there are still many challenges in the VR metaverse, many brands believe the opportunities they provide are worth investing in today.