By keeping a close eye on emergent trends such as the Metaverse, your brand can begin to build the bridge between virtual consumer behavior and lasting, real-world purchasing decisions.
The newest frontier in retail is closer than you might think. Since its early adoption in the 1970s1, e-commerce has transformed customer experience and forced retailers to adapt innovative tactics to engage the online consumer. Omnichannel marketing is no longer an option; in our complex and noisy technological landscape, it’s a necessity. At the intersection of emergent tech and fast-paced changes to the retail landscape lies augmented reality and the opportunity to engage with consumers like never before. But the question remains: can virtual experiences provoke tangible sales?
As Insights industry leaders with expertise in the retail space, we’re tracking the evolution of how and where consumers shop, including on virtual platforms, such as Meta. Using our conversational approach and Rival's mobile messaging-based research platform, we connected with U.S. adults who are interested in the Metaverse, catching a rare glimpse of what consumers think virtual platforms might have in store for them. Here’s what we found 👇
Virtual Products, IRL Sales
Shopping in virtual reality is already on consumers’ minds. When it comes to the kinds of activities consumers are most interested in in the Metaverse, virtual shopping and retail activations (53%) fall just behind live music (68%) and travel (58%).
Though many virtual e-commerce activities encourage consumers to interact with digital products, our research suggests that consumers might leverage these interactions to inform IRL purchases. While 32% of consumers would be interested in shopping for strictly virtual products in the Metaverse, 55% would be interested in shopping virtual stores for products they can receive in real life. This tells us there is not only an opportunity — but an expectation for — bridges between Metaverse and real world shopping.
Further, encountering products in the Metaverse can have a positive impact on the purchase decision. Seventy-two percent of consumers say that seeing products in the Metaverse would make them more likely to purchase products IRL. For virtual shoppers, Metaverse marketplaces offer an opportunity to explore and research products before stepping foot in the aisle:
“I would be able to see the product up close and more personal before buying, which would help me decide if I truly want the product.” – 18-24, Female
“I think that the Metaverse could help me make decisions about food and beverage in a new and unique way by showing me different facets of products.” – 35-39, Female
“Because it’s like trying something before you buy it. You want to know if it looks good or not and if it’s something you’d want to wear.” – 40-44, Female
“It would give me the option to explore the product and how it works, whether or not it would be a good purchase for me after going over all the details that I would not be privy to just reading descriptions and viewing product images.” – 30-34, Male
Some savvy retailers are already capitalizing on the consumer urge to bridge virtual and real-life purchasing opportunities. Albertsons, for example, recently took to the Metaverse’s Decentraland to host a ‘Meta Mega Deal’ wherein purchases made online would be delivered, in real time, to their front doors.2 These hybrid real life/virtual activations might be a particularly great way to connect with new customers in a post-pandemic landscape. Building loyalty and meeting the expectations of your new COVID customers virtually can help you to reduce churn, provide safe experiential space, and boost long-term customer value in the real world.
Grasping Consumer Interest in Virtual Retail Activations
What might it look like to engage with shoppers in virtual and augmented reality? Though virtual retail experiences are still new, potential abounds to meet consumers’ informational and research needs on the path to purchase. Gen Zs are particularly excited about retail experiences, such as virtual clothing/jewelry try-ons and customization. Brands seeking to appeal to Gen Z consumers might look to examples such as Paris Hilton’s “Cryptoween” Roblox activation which encouraged users to choose costumes and create virtual beauty looks created by makeup brand Urban Decay. Users then competed in a virtual runway competition, engaging consumers both with the brand’s products and with each other to generate a positive and fun experience. In the future, brands should look to bridge virtual try-on and customization to real-world products, creating a holistic shopping experience that encompasses both virtual and reality.
Regardless of age, 65% of customers express interest in engaging with others in the Metaverse, presenting the opportunity for brands to infuse more socially-driven elements into the e-commerce experience. One brand that has been able to successfully provide the social experience within augmented reality (AR) space is Miller Lite which, in celebration of the 2022 Super Bowl, opened a “virtual tavern” wherein football fans could connect, win prizes, and — most importantly — engage positively with the brand.3 These hybrid virtual-social engagements build upon customer experience, recalling more traditional experiences of collective shopping trips at malls but with a socially-distanced and tech-infused twist. Retailers might explore customer associations with the social aspects of shopping to home in on the qualities that will truly make their Metaverse activations shine.
One of the best tactics for developing relevant and impactful social activations online is to authentically connect with your consumer base; leveraging insights from mobile communities can help you anticipate customer needs while capturing in-the-moment glimpses into consumer behavior.
Finding your Place in the new Path to Purchase
While its ultimate longevity as a platform is up for debate, the Metaverse may prove to be a valuable pit-stop on the shopping journey for many consumers, and presents a new way for shoppers to meet informational needs, smoothing the path to purchase IRL. As shopping continues to evolve, the Metaverse, and AR experiences more broadly, is a space to watch. But shopping in the Metaverse cannot be purely virtual. There needs to be a bridge to the real world and to real products that will not only wind up in consumers’ hands, but in their homes for years to come.
So, what role might the Metaverse play in this new path to purchase? Shoppers might start their journey there – exploring new products and researching products in a convenient way. The Metaverse may also be an opportunity to attract new customers by giving them a safe environment to explore and ‘try’ products before committing to a purchase. Leveraging consumer delight around virtual try-on space and interactivity can help inform IRL decisions to purchase. By keeping a close eye on emergent trends such as the Metaverse, your brand can begin to build the bridge between virtual consumer behavior and lasting, real-world purchasing decisions.
Christine Nguyen, PhD