The Metaverse: Where Virtual and Physical Retail Fuse

artistic rendering of people looking through VR glasses

By Stan Coignard, Ask Locala, CEO of the Americas

It’s important to remember that the Metaverse is not exclusively virtual but rather a parallel world.

Most of the current buzz has settled into a narrative about how and when brands should enter the new frontier of Web3. While these are obviously important questions, brands must think about it within a broader context.

If a brand is dabbling with NFTs and other forms of community tokens or even grabbing virtual real estate in the nascent Metaverse, that’s great. We should applaud them for their courage in being forward-thinking and trying to anticipate and shape the future. But if they don’t make these moves without considering the implications in the physical world within the context of an omnichannel marketing approach, they are setting themselves up for disappointment.

While moves by Burger King and Adidas make a splash in the court of public opinion, sustainable growth can only manifest for retailers if their Metaverse forays are informed by a central mission to point community members to brands’ physical spaces. The physical-virtual continuum built upon authenticity and trust in all channels will drive the most outstanding results.

For brands to think about the Metaverse as a self-contained arena separate from established channels is short-sighted. The Metaverse will host virtual stores, and physical stores will allow new VR/AR experiences mirroring the Metaverse.

For the past 15 years, retailers ran their digital e-commerce and physical operations in silos instead of realizing that the integrated whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. Applying consumer signals from everywhere that can serve every channel is the Holy Grail but not evident to everyone. Then the pandemic happened. And now, the lopsided shift to e-commerce has hopefully opened many eyes to the notion that all channels have to work in concert.

So if you buy into this paradigm of the Metaverse as the fusion of the digital and the physical retail worlds, then there are several key topics to address as you architect your omnichannel program with the Metaverse as a new linchpin.

Brands Must Own The Consumer

Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Blizzard Activision not only comes with best-in-class gaming and digital expertise; it also comes with 371mm monthly active users(MAUs), which makes Microsoft one of the top players in the Metaverse. In parallel, the likes of Decentraland, The SandBox, and Roblox will become massive marketplaces as they monetize their audiences.

Brands cannot allow these companies to replicate the control that Apple and Google exerted during the heyday of the mobile app store explosion. Each built a proprietary “ecosystem” whereby the App Store and Google Play became massive portals to search and find the best content or services, while gobbling up 30% rev share.

It has become an everyday battle to understand who “owns” the users among the Internet provider, the device designer, and the App publisher. Let’s not allow the same dynamic to take over the Metaverse.

Ensure that your brand will own the consumer in terms of first-party data, not the ISP or the Metaverse platform.

Make Sure Your Brand Metaverse is Searchable & Findable

The Metaverse is essentially a gigantic mall or resort where entertainment and shopping opportunities are limitless. It can’t be about a simple product placement strategy but rather creating a virtual storefront to sell your products by ensuring that your presence– offering engaging, interactive customer experiences–is searchable and findable. Your Drive-to-Store strategy will transform to include a Drive-to-Metastore strategy.

Create Boundary-Busting Experiences on the Virtual-Physical Continuum

Think hard about how you forge your brand’s connection with consumers from the Metaverse to the physical location. What is the best content and User Experience your brand can offer? Will VR/AR be more meaningfully applied in the retail space than before?

Imagine putting on your VR goggles and entering Netflix’s Metaverse, filled with two million people from all over the world.  They have gathered to watch the new season of The Squid Game, forging new bonds over their shared excitement for the show.

While hanging out, community members can pull out their Crypto wallets and snap up the Squid Game costumes for Halloween–for both their avatars as well as IRL.  Or imagine IKEA’s plot in the Metaverse–the biggest store in the world where consumers can see every piece of furniture in a home staging protocol to inspire new ideas.  This in turn drives more physical retail foot traffic.

Let an Ethical North Star Be Your Guide in the Metaverse

An ethical approach to the Metaverse is mandatory. Let’s not repeat Facebook’s mistakes with its destructive policies around disinformation and body shaming teenage girls on Instagram.

The Metaverse will come with fake IDs and avatars, blurry data where everyone can become anyone, just for fun. So you will need to think outside the box to create a trustworthy relationship with consumers. The good thing is that the whole ecosystem is being built on the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, making the Internet more transparent and secure than ever.

Taking a proactive, inventive approach to the Metaverse while keeping societal good at the forefront, will create a win-win-win for brands, consumers, and publishers/platforms alike. It’s an exciting time for our industry!