Journey through the Metaverse: Is the Future of Retail Virtual?

A woman uses a virtual reality headset
Browse stores in a virtual world, buy something and have it delivered to your physical mailbox. This is v-commerce, or virtual commerce, and it goes beyond virtual worlds and games to redefine how we buy and consume, in this and all other realities.

“The purpose of a metaverse is not to function in isolation, but to build bridges between the virtual and real worlds.”

The digital media market is doing well thanks to video games. Many developers depend on it and are abandoning the hitherto dominant model of games being purchased as a finished product and giving each customer access to the same content. These developers now offer multiplayer applications and games, such as World of Warcraft, Fortnite or Pokémon Go, which are partially free to play. The time that non-paying players spend on a game and its multiplayer interactions provides a more enjoyable experience for customers who pay, whether via subscription or micropayment. There are all sorts of add-ons, including improved player avatars, shortcuts to an enriched experience, and even pay-to-win content that gives you an advantage over other players. The model is becoming more and more successful, a sign that consumers are increasingly keen on sharing virtual experiences with others. This trend may give rise to a future in which virtual emulation extends to other areas of daily life. Shopping, in particular, could be revolutionized by the possibility of shopping in virtual stores as a sharply dressed, customized avatar. Nike has recently announced NIKELAND, its own metaverse on the Roblox gaming platform. Players can kit out their avatar in Nike products and journey through a virtual world dominated by sports.

My Metaverse Sneakers

Other trends have recently emerged, even in physical stores. “The purpose of a metaverse is not to function in isolation, but to build bridges between the virtual and real worlds,” says Mathieu Ducrot, Director of XR Products and Services at Orange Innovation. “Originating from industry, the digital-twin concept is starting to penetrate the world of e-commerce. When a customer purchases a real-life pair of shoes, they can pay a bit extra for a similar virtual pair for their avatar. Gucci, for example, recently marketed a pair of exclusively virtual sneakers called Gucci Virtual 25. In the future, before purchasing a vehicle, consumers will be able to customize it by applying the color and features they want to its digital twin, wow their friends and family by taking it for a virtual test drive while waiting for delivery of the real thing, and keep an eye on it remotely once it has arrived. Porsche is already testing the use of digital twins to monitor the condition of the car and anticipate servicing requirements.”

When Virtual and Real Worlds Collide

Augmented reality (AR) is already improving traditional omni-channel retail journeys by enabling the crucial customer benefit of being able to “try before you buy.” For example, by pointing their smartphone’s camera toward their feet, customers can see on their screen how the new pair of sneakers they so desperately want might look — before heading to the checkout. Furniture and interior design stores are leading the way in augmented retail. By simply downloading a mobile app, customers can already use AR to try a paint color on their walls or to see how a piece of furniture fits and looks in their living room. “This type of functionality will minimize returns, which are the biggest problem for online retail brands today: according to the French Federation of E-Commerce and Distance Selling (FEVAD), they result in the loss of 2–3% of revenues each year.  The ready-to-wear, eyewear and cosmetics industries have already embraced AR technology. At Orange, our Innovation teams are focused on using AR to enhance customers’ instore experience.” Smartphones’ growing ability to map their 3D environment and to track body movements accurately is fueling growth in these new services.

Get Your Glasses, We’re Almost There

Establishing the metaverse and immersing it into the real world requires technology that is both affordable and acceptable to the general public, based on devices that offer total freedom of movement and near-real rendering of virtual objects. Detailed textures that are faithful to the original object are a sure sign of advanced, detail-rich 3D models which are, by their nature, difficult to recreate. Fiber and 5G, together with edge and cloud computing solutions, will be able to support the most demanding extended reality (XR) graphics calculations, thereby enabling miniaturization of devices such as augmented reality glasses, which will eventually take the form of a regular pair of spectacles. Orange is leading the way by dedicating a significant portion of its research to very high broadband networks (5G and Fiber) and XR cloud platforms, which are key vehicles for these new services.

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