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Brands and consumers clash over the metaverse

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Research reveals that the metaverse is growing rapidly as a retail tool, but brands and consumers are split on the best areas to utilise the revolutionary technology.

29th Nov 2022
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Despite still being in its infancy, a recent survey of the UK’s top 100 retailers shows that the metaverse is already prevalent within the sector, with its use predicted to rise exponentially in the coming years.

Of those surveyed, 12% admitted that they are now using the virtual technology, and 39% claimed that they are planning to in the future.

Interestingly, these figures rise significantly in certain areas of retail. The tech is most popular amongst lifestyle and leisure brands, with 14% currently using it and 52% planning to – a 2% and 13% increase on the average.

But what exactly is the metaverse and how is it being used in retail?

Thrust into the public eye after Facebook rebranded its corporate identity to Meta in October 2021 and announced plans to invest at least $10 billion into the concept, the metaverse is a virtual world where people live, work, shop, learn and interact with each other – all from the comfort of their sofa.

In terms of retail, the metaverse is used as a way for brands to engage and interact with their consumers, but perhaps its biggest strength lies in the personal data that can be collected from it and used to shape customer service/experience strategies.

Indeed, more than half of the retailers surveyed emphasised the potential to use it for targeted advertising (54%) and personalised experiences (51%).

The incorporation of the metaverse is indicative of a trend throughout the retail sector that has seen more and more brands looking to digitalisation as a means to enhance relevance, awareness and value.

Pie chart on retailers' intentions on using the metaverse

This is highlighted within the study, where 30% of respondents described themselves as either an “innovator” or “early adopter”, when it came to adopting new consumer-facing technologies.

The divide

With the metaverse offering a myriad of opportunities for retailers, the ways in which they use/envisage themselves using the technology is crucial to its success.

The research has revealed that the main ways retailers see themselves using the metaverse include marketing (35%), engagement (31%), and clubs and communities (29%) – with only 27% seeing themselves creating experiences for consumers, such as games, competitions and virtual classes.

However, there is a serious mismatch between this and how consumers see themselves using the virtual technology, with retailers massively over-estimating the importance of marketing and underestimating the importance of experiences.

An overwhelming majority of consumers (72%) see experiences as the primary use of the metaverse, followed by engagement (70%), marketing (67%), and clubs and communities (65%).

Graph comparing consumers and retailers' views on the metaverse

This disconnect between consumers and retailers is a major concern for brands looking to adopt the metaverse into their customer experience strategies, as getting this wrong could damage how customers view a retailer’s reputation in the metaverse, which could have a knock on effect across its other channels.

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

As discussed above, arguably the biggest asset the metaverse can provide retailers with is customer data. And whilst there is no denying that more data allows brands to provide more personalised, tailored experiences – it is not without its own problems.

The pandemic and subsequent digitalisation means that the majority of brands are already operating in data-rich environments, and are struggling to deal with the volume of customer information that they are currently receiving.

Before considering introducing the metaverse, it is essential that organisations have the adequate infrastructure and resources in place to process and easily access the data.

Another major area of concern when dealing with customers’ personal information is data privacy and protection.

Data privacy and protection is less important to brands than it once was.

And whilst retailers are rightly identifying cyber security (54%) and data protection (43%) as two of the biggest legal risks in the metaverse, the research also reveals that in general, data privacy and protection is less important to brands than it once was, with only 21% of respondents considering GDPR compliance to be a top organisational priority.

Another area of concern revealed in the report is the impact of the metaverse on environmental issues. However, retailers are divided on this issue. Although 20% believe it is mostly part of the solution, as it reduces the demand for physical goods, 18% believe it to be part of the problem, due to its reliance on data centres.

Retailers are also divided over the long-term importance of the metaverse. Almost two thirds (61%) are not currently planning to use it, and 85% don’t think it will ever be as important as physical stores, retailer websites, online marketplaces, social media or loyalty and incentive schemes.

Conclusion

Unless the next era-defining technological advancement is the time machine that sci-fi books and films have been promising for decades, no one can accurately predict how big a part the metaverse will have to play in the retail sector.

However, what we can definitively say is that it is a platform that is growing rapidly and is being backed by some of the most resource and cash rich companies on the planet.

‘The metaverse provides a new opportunity to create better in-store experiences.’

On discussing the findings of the report, Perran Jervis, Head of Retail and Consumer Goods at TLT, commented:

“Retailers have been trying to create better in-store experiences for some time and the metaverse provides a new opportunity in this respect, but it does require an entirely different approach as the retailer creates the whole framework in which users operate – and they need to do this within the law and be respectful of those users’ expectations.

“In the current economic climate, it’s important for retailers to show they understand and are listening to what consumers are looking for. Retailers can rarely afford to ignore new trends; success will lie in finding ways to minimise the uncertainty that comes with new technologies and pinpointing the opportunities.”

As with any investment in new technology, organisations first need to understand their existing infrastructure and limitations, or else risk adding another problematic, and expensive, tool that their team can not fully utilise.

There is a lot to be said for being able to crawl before you can walk in the CX tech world.

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