First we looked at offices, now we look at retail.

In my previous post, I considered how the metaverse might change the way we work; the focus now is on how the metaverse might change the way we shop.

Traditional online platforms such as websites and apps have allowed businesses to expand their reach, offering their products to customers all over the world. What they have not been able to do, however, is offer their global customers the full brand experience. Sure, a website will feature the appropriate branding, and the products will be displayed in such a way that the online purchaser gets a feel for what they're buying, but it still fails to stimulate the senses in the same way as physical goods in a physical setting. The metaverse offers a way to bridge this gap between the virtual and the physical.

Luxury retailers such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton have been some of the first to experiment in the metaverse. In 2021, Gucci marked its 100th anniversary in the metaverse, creating an art installation within the global gaming platform, Roblox (the Gucci Garden) to build brand awareness and increase Gucci's reach to the younger generation.

Since launching the Gucci Garden, Gucci have also created 'Gucci in Zepeto'. Zepeto allows users to create avatars who meet other users on 'Zepeto Street' - a virtual space where people from around the world can interact. Gucci's collaboration with Zepeto has allowed them to facilitate online purchases of some of their virtual pieces through an app, resulting in a plethora of avatars dressed head to toe in digital Gucci. For those of you who were baffled at the start of this post, I imagine I have lost you completely now...

What Gucci's recent digital activities show is that if you know how to use them, virtual spaces can offer the perfect platform for expanding your reach and solidifying your position as a forward-thinking brand. It also offers customers from around the world an insight into your designs, and it becomes yet another space where you can showcase what your brand represents.

But before we get too carried away with the bright lights of the metaverse, it is important to also consider the environmental impacts of using a digital platform. For all that it offers in creativity and innovation, many argue that it also takes away from sustainability efforts. That being said, I am going to attempt to mitigate the arguments of many metaverse skeptics, with a final thought on how the metaverse could be used to reduce a company's carbon footprint.

Research shows that up to a quarter of online shoppers will return between 5% and 15% of the items they've brought online (amounting to a staggering $428 billion worth of returns in 2020), and research carried out by Nosto in 2021 showed that 19% of consumers will 'deliberately order multiple variations of a single item (such as different colors or sizes) to then choose the item that suits them best and return the rest.' Not only does this risk items being returned in an unsaleable condition, it also increases a company's carbon footprint, with deliveries going back and forth between company and consumer. The metaverse could provide a way for consumers to make more informed choices.

One idea is for avatars to replicate the body type of its user, allowing clothes to be tried on in the digital world and then ordered online and delivered to the user's door. The ability to 'try on' designs and touch different fabrics (and yes, it is possible to touch in the Metaverse - see SpinOcchio, created by researchers in South Korea) could reduce online returns, further decreasing the carbon footprint of retail brands across the world.

...it's not a perfect argument, but it's what I like to think of as a 'good try'.

The exciting thing about the metaverse is that it is still very much in its infancy, and there are plenty more avenues to be explored as platforms develop. It is certainly a work in progress, but for those investing early, the risk may well pay off in the future.

the Metaverse Technology market was valued at $32 billion in 2021 and is likely to reach $224 billion by 2030