When it Comes to Retail, Does the Metaverse Matter?

New Data Suggests Consumers Strongly Favor A Hybrid Offering

June 23, 2022

By Melissa Wong, CEO and Co-Founder of Zipline

Zipline’s 2022 Retail Metaverse Report surveyed 600 people across the country ages 13-50 to better understand how generational differences influence consumer perception of and participation in virtual retail experiences.

Companies are focusing a great deal of time, money, and resources on expanding their presence in the metaverse, but for the average consumer, it can be hard to understand the value in these investments. For most, the metaverse is an abstract concept and one that many struggle to grasp.

Despite its obscurity, the metaverse has quickly become one of the tech industry’s most promising niches. A virtual-reality space in which individuals can interact with others, shop/access NFTs and exclusive products, or participate in gaming activities, it was recognized by Gartner as one of 2022’s top five emerging trends and technologies.

With spending on the metaverse expected to hit nearly $73B by 2024, it’s safe to bet that with money comes scale. As a result, it has already begun to permeate industries outside the general technology space, including retail. But what role do shoppers want the metaverse to have in their experiences moving forward? We went straight to the source to find out.

After surveying 600 people across the country to better understand how generational differences influence perception and participation in metaverse retail experiences, we recorded results that paint a vivid picture of the metaverses’ true value for shoppers nationwide.

Retails’ Big Spenders are Indifferent to the Metaverse

Today, Gen Z has roughly $360 billion to spend on retail, but they can be particular about where and how they spend their money. Tech-savvy and informed of new advancements in retail technology, 80% of Gen Z is “familiar” with the metaverse, and a sizeable 51% have already participated in it in one way or another. While their older counterparts have comparable levels of familiarity (84%), far fewer have actually participated in the metaverse (37%). Across all generations, only 42% of respondents who have participated in the metaverse have used it for any form of shopping.

Yet, despite Gen Z’s acquaintance with metaverse, a key takeaway may be their disinterest. The survey found that 85% of Gen Z respondents reported feeling indifferent about brands developing a presence in the metaverse – a potentially worrisome stat for retailers diving head-first with multi-million dollar investments.

But what’s causing this hesitation? Our survey suggests that the primary challenge for retailers will be overcoming a lack of understanding of the metaverse, which Gen Z (43%), Millennials (43%), and Gen X (53%) cite as the main reason for not participating. Monetary obstacles and lack of time ranked second and third, respectively.

The Road to a Virtual Storefront

So, what can retailers do to establish their virtual presence without leaving their customers behind? Take small steps toward the metaverse.

While Gen Z may not be ready to move their shopping into cyberspace, 85% said they’d be interested in hybrid in-store experiences that use mixed reality technologies to incorporate a virtual element to shopping. Moreover, older generations want to take part, too. The overwhelming majority of Millennials (75%) and Gen X (69%) said they would be interested in these hybrid experiences, which can serve as an on-ramp for participating in the metaverse economy.

Apparel company lululemon, for example, has equipped select stores with its AR-enabled Mirror, which also allows users to connect with friends and watch live classes.

Our survey has illuminated two comforting facts for retailers committed to a metaverse presence: if you’ve already invested in the metaverse and aren’t seeing a return on investment, there are ways to bring your customers along with you. And if you haven’t had the resources to invest yet, there’s still time to lay the groundwork before moving forward.

As we enter the busy summer season, here are four steps brands can take to create enticing virtual experiences for their customers and to ensure a successful investment:

Ensure your company’s strategy is clear to everyone at the company, not just HQ: I’ve seen time and time again retailers invest in a new direction for their company but fail to effectively communicate the strategy to all employees. If an associate can’t explain the new direction to a customer, the customer will not embrace the change and the initiative will fall short. Employee understanding and buy-in is paramount when it comes to establishing a virtual presence.
Find meaningful ways to give back to early adopters: the metaverse is like a members club that your customers can subscribe to. What benefits do they get for being a part of the group? In addition to discounts, offers, and exclusive content (the main reasons respondents would consider participating in a retailer’s metaverse), most Millennials (70%) and Gen Z (63%) said they would be interested in getting an NFT from a brand they love, though it’s important to note that only 5.7% of those already engaging in the metaverse listed access to NFTs as their primary reason for doing so.
Consider how your digital presence is an extension of your physical store(s): how does your metaverse shopping experience go beyond what you can offer in-store? Find ways to make a more immersive consumer experience, such as virtual reality dressing rooms and individualized marketing strategies.
Be clever about educating your customers on the metaverse, and your role in it: Offer your customers insight via newsletters, social media campaigns and content. Allow them space to ask questions and show them why they should be excited, not intimidated! Allow them to dip a toe in before asking them to take the plunge.

Like all new technologies, consumers need time to understand the potential value of the metaverse. And when it comes to retail, store owners and managers are at an advantage. Retail environments are ideal for introducing your shoppers to new resources and demonstrating how your investments will pay off for them in the long term. So while the metaverse isn’t on Gen Zs’ wishlist this year, with the right strategies, a hybrid version of it certainly will be soon.

Read the full press release here or check out a full breakdown of the data!

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