In the last decade, advancements in technology have reshaped how retail companies do business. Following COVID-19, new and immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR), extended reality (XR) and mixed reality (MR) are changing consumer behavior, employee expectations and the shopping experience. Retail is migrating to the metaverse.

Years ago, these immersive technologies were seen only in science fiction books and movies. Then they made inroads into the gaming industry. But today, we’re seeing immersive technologies — which power the metaverse — impacting business operations across big and small retail companies. According to a 2022 Raydiant consumer behavior study, 56.6% of survey respondents prefer to shop online rather than in person — almost a 10% increase from 2020. In another study by PwC, about 32% of VR users shopped on VR platforms in the first half of 2022.

Betsy Morse Rohtbart, VP, global web and ecommerce at Vonage, said in the Social Media Trends 2023 report by Talkwater and Khoros that the online shopping experience is poised to exceed the physical shopping experience in total market size. “By using communications technology through social and messaging platforms, online retailers are breaking through the bricks and mortar and directly connecting with customers (both reactively and proactively) and, in doing so, moving past the one-time transactions to two-way conversations and ongoing engagement for more meaningful relationships,” said Rohtbart.

Lauren Mathews, a writer covering retail, noted in an article published by Shopify that “while physical retail has exceeded expectations, the pandemic has forever altered how we shop in person. Consumers expect stores to be digital-first, focused on speed, convenience, and community. As retailers navigate the future of physical retail, they will need to transform their store strategies to meet evolving customer needs.”

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Bigcommerce reports “ecommerce sales are expected to surpass $740 billion in the U.S. alone by 2023,” especially because of factors like “increased use of smartphones and mobile shopping, social media and social commerce, transformative technology” and others.

Retail looks to the metaverse to craft engaging customer experiences

The data show that this trend will continue, and businesses must level up their omnichannel strategies and find alternative marketing channels for delivering smooth shopping experiences. “In 2023, at least three more major providers of collaboration technologies — think Zoom, Slack, Webex, or Google apps — will add 3D metaverse-style features, reaching tens of millions of potential users,” according to Forrester’s new 2023 predictions.

Forrester further predicts that “consumers’ tolerance for poor brand experiences will fall for the first time in three years,” adding that “businesses should expect to ramp up customer support and social care teams in 2023 to handle a harder-to-please customer.” The trajectory is clear: Businesses that prioritize customer experience are more likely to blossom than those that don’t — even in metaverse retail.

Eran Galil, cofounder and CTO at Israel-based retail tech company ByondXR, told VentureBeat that companies must create engaging experiences for consumers if they are to improve sales. Galil said that’s why ByondXR developed a proprietary ecommerce platform that provides scalable immersive solutions to help retailers create and manage virtual stores and showrooms that increase customer engagement and sales.

In metaverse retail, customer experience is key

Customer experience is a key aspect of retail and it won’t be any different in the metaverse, said Scott Keeney, chief metaverse officer (CMTO) at TSX Entertainment. Keeney told VentureBeat that enterprises should focus on creating great experiences for customers. “We need to stop talking about the technical terms and just make great experiences. Because consumers don’t care to know how the meal is cooked. They just want something that tastes good and is healthy,” Keeney said.

Galil said ByondXR recognizes how crucial customer experience is to retail in the metaverse, adding that the company’s self-service platform enables brands to build and manage immersive shopping experiences while allowing other partners to provide their technologies in already-launched stores.

ByondXR’s technology stack includes live shopping, virtual try-ons, NFTs, avatars, AI bots, 3D asset creation and optimizations, 3D rendering, AR/VR, embeddable mini-games, cloud rendering, behavioral analytics, authoring and publishing tools and more. Another way ByondXR prioritizes customer experience, according to Galil, is by allowing retailers to add their own ecommerce, media and fun elements through control plugins. “Users can now decide what, when and how they want to showcase in their store, making managing a virtual store comprehensive, easy and quick,” he said.

Trending now

Galil noted some of the most active trends in the metaverse today:

  • Web 3D: Brands are increasingly looking to build 3D experiences with photorealistic environments that enable customers to engage meaningfully in the metaverse.
  • Gaming platforms: With a billion people today playing games on metaverse platforms like Roblox, Zepeto and Fortnite, brands are looking to tap into the audience that’s already there.
  • Avatars: Brands are now utilizing avatars as hosts, sales assistants, models and more.

Galil said ByondXR’s platform assists these trends by offering a technology that helps its clients build ultra-photorealistic environments, and a metaverse onboarding bundle that includes integrating into the most-used gaming platforms. He said the platform provides “a comprehensive cross-metaverse platform bundle that enables companies to build, manage and grow without the need of an external workforce, in a full self-service way.” He added that ByondXR partners with leading companies creating avatars and other plugins to help develop the most engaging customer experiences.

To effectively tap into the benefits of the metaverse, Galil said enterprises must learn what options, capabilities and trends they want to follow. Brands, he said, should build a baby-step strategy, deciding which platform and experiences they would like to create for their customers, finding the right partners to execute it and testing their strategy to determine what works best for them.

Only then can retailers reap the benefits of offering customer experience tailored to the metaverse, where more and more consumers will be doing their shopping in the years to come.

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