Virtual Reality

Retail in the Metaverse Facing Hardware, Identity Challenges

The metaverse is arriving in bits and pieces, with no broad consensus on what it really is and how it will work.

Retailers see the metaverse as essential to serving customers, and its early adopters are creating it as a natural progression from mobile, social media, and the internet. But how will retailers shift the intricacies of selling physical goods to a virtual world?

That is only one leading question about the shape, form, and substance to be available in the metaverse. As businesses begin exploring how they might navigate its unchartered waters, more questions are emerging.

Within this context, metaverse technology has yet to solidify how users behave in virtual retail spaces. Constructors are still playing with how to detect who is visiting virtual stores, where and when they visit, how and for how long they interact with products, and why they engage with specific content.

All this information is crucial to retailers. To know what works in the metaverse, retailers need to follow the customer journey closely and use customer insights to help guide the design and product placement in their virtual stores.

Still a Mystery to Many

Mark Zuckerberg, head of the rebranded Meta company behind Facebook and early metaverse development, in October 2021 described it as a successor to the mobile internet with technology built around people. Today, the metaverse seems more science fiction than reality.

The new technology has already incurred nearly $18 billion in total losses. With most of the population unable to effectively explain what it is or how it works, the original picture of the metaverse future may be doomed.

Generally, metaverse adoption was a goal for many organizations this year, with 71% saying a shift to the metaverse is likely to have a positive business impact, according to Marcel Hollerbach, chief innovation officer at product-to-consumer platform firm Productsup.

“That said, we have seen the most successful metaverse launches within certain industries — gaming, tech, and e-commerce. Companies in these spaces have a reputation for being innovators, so being the first ones to plunge into the virtual arena makes sense,” Hollerbach told the E-Commerce Times.

Visibly Missing Players

Business adoption of the metaverse so far has not been widespread. Nor has interest blossomed universally, noted Adam Riggs, founder and CEO of Frameable. The company builds software for remote-first digital experiences for team collaboration and social connection.

“Right now, based on what is available currently or in the near future, virtual reality or VR is not a serious, inclusive, or sustainable way to enhance a remote or hybrid team’s performance. The exceptions to this are specialized training applications. But for general office applications, VR is not a viable path to better results,” Riggs told the E-Commerce Times regarding a key component in metaverse technology.

Specifically, video game companies like Roblox and Epic Games were the first to adopt the metaverse. It was a natural implementation given the target audience and developer ecosystem already available, observed Hollerbach.

“While the adoption of the metaverse in more traditional business settings is still unknown, the initial iterations are starting to shed light on where its value lies for consumers,” he added.

Meanwhile, tech companies like Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Apple have been working to offer the foundational technology needed to build metaverse experiences. For e-commerce, many brands are experimenting with different use cases, like Adidas’ Into the Metaverse campaign.

Consumer Consumption Coalescing

The metaverse is a new technology that people are still adjusting to and need to discover more closely. Like any disruptive technology, it involves a growth curve, Hollerbach noted.

He predicted that behavior and expectations from younger generations will ultimately set the direction for the metaverse. We will likely see several different phases of virtual worlds before the metaverse takes its full form.

The metaverse will look much different to Generation Alpha (those born from 2010 to 2024) than the virtual world we have seen over the last year. He reasoned that members of this younger generation already place real-world value in metaverse purchases.

Hollerbach is optimistic about the metaverse’s potential. While adoption has not gone mainstream yet, it has seen much momentum since Meta rebranded.

“There is still significant growth potential for the technology, and it is a worthy exploratory investment for businesses looking to personalize consumer engagement, he said.

Founding Vision a Slow Starter or Inherently Flawed?

Riggs sees Zuckerberg’s vision as more than just suffering from birth and growing pains. It needs a different direction to succeed, he contends.

A $1,500 virtual reality headset that only provides a two-hour charge and causes many issues in terms of accessibility and access is certainly not the answer, he reasoned.

“These headsets require a high upfront hardware investment plus a high level of internet bandwidth, which many employees may not have access to,” he countered.

Long-form use has also caused discomfort to many individuals, producing nausea and migraines for many users. According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction, creating yet another added challenge for the majority of users, Riggs observed.

“While the Metaverse may be useful for specific use cases, unfortunately, there are very few VR applications in the marketplace that meet the diverse needs for remote and hybrid work,” he said.

VR Not Your Father’s Internet

Using the metaverse requires a different behavioral set than traditional internet activity. The typical user has integrated internet use into casual everyday activities.

“We pick up our phones and scroll through the news or message each other while waiting in line without giving a second thought to how the interaction happens,” noted Riggs.

Current metaverse apps, on the other hand, require the purchase of a headset that you have to charge for hours and put on to interact within the specific app with others. He said it lacks the inherent spontaneity and inclusivity we are accustomed to with our usual internet usage.

Virtual Office Spaces

Rigg’s company may have such a product in mind to give metaverse adoption a more affordable solution. Few VR applications exist in the marketplace that adequately meet the diverse needs for inspiring persistent virtual spaces for professionals.

“Frameable is one of a tiny handful of companies taking this on as a core challenge, and we do it with your existing hardware, not new VR hardware,” he explained.

Its virtual office product Frameable Spaces lets users create customizable online workspaces that allow them to connect and collaborate just as they would in the physical office.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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