People as avatars having a business meeting in a virtual metaverse VR office
Image: supamotion/Adobe Stock

MIT artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky coined the term “suitcase words” — words or terms that mean nothing by themselves but hold several ideas inside that you must unpack — said Paul McDonagh-Smith, senior lecturer in information technology at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

“I think this is a good way to visualize the metaverse — as a suitcase with a number of different technologies, principles and potentials packed inside,” McDonagh-Smith said.

The metaverse resides within the family of extended reality technologies that includes augmented, mixed and virtual reality, as well as virtual worlds, telepresence, 360 video, filters, digital twins and more, according to McDonagh-Smith. In terms of key principles, the metaverse is shaped by concepts including immersion, engagement, persistence and personalization.

SEE: Metaverse cheat sheet: Everything you need to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

However, the true metaverse doesn’t yet exist. That’s because it requires progress in areas like interoperability, standards and protocols to allow its networks of 3D virtual experiences to interconnect to enable virtual experiences. Through these experiences, users can interact, work, learn, play, respond, react and reflect via personalized avatars that represent their identities as they wish to depict them, McDonagh-Smith said.

While the tools and technology out there today enable people to create their own mini-metaverses, they are not connected to other ones, said Kelly Malone, chief business officer at Taqtile, a provider of an augmented reality and mixed reality work-instruction platform.

“Where I believe that this ultimately becomes a true metaverse is when these things get interconnected,” he said. “You have a company over here building their own digital twins with their processes and procedures, but they just have their own mini-metaverse. Where it becomes a true metaverse is when you begin to connect all these things together so you can access that data and that capability in a more open and broad way. That’s the piece that’s really missing.”

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Business uses of the metaverse for business

So what exactly does the metaverse mean for business? While there are no clear-cut answers, there are some informed guesses.

“What we have today are precursors or pre-metaverse offerings,” said Tuong Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner. “The examples I like to use are based on augmented reality and virtual reality, because that’s the easiest way to show people what an immersive digital environment is with an immersive digital interface.”

Business uses include frontline workers in heavy industries using AR for procedural tasks and remote guidance. In VR, it includes virtual meetings and conferences, product visualization and configuration tasks, gaming, storytelling, design and collaboration tasks, and training for better decision making, he said.

Metaverse uses in healthcare

The idea of a more accessible and equitable digital universe that runs parallel to our physical world is compelling, but organizations really need to see where these technologies can actually solve problems, generate value and best work together synergistically, said Justin Barad, CEO and co-founder of Osso VR, a virtual reality surgical training and assessment platform.

“In our field of healthcare, virtual reality is playing an important role in training and education,” Barad said. “Using virtual reality, companies are enabling physicians from across the globe to practice procedures together, collaboratively, on a virtual patient.”

Barad said that virtual reality for surgical training breaks down barriers by giving healthcare professionals the ability to:

  • Work with every member of the surgical team in unison from anywhere in the world to improve procedural efficiency
  • Assist multiple underserved communities in which doctors don’t have immediate access to academic institutions for on-demand training
  • Train anytime schedules permit
  • Use platforms that offer localization, allowing practice in preferred languages

Collecting customer feedback in the metaverse

Technology such as VR headsets that create a more physical connection for users in the metaverse enable businesses to capture valuable data points, said Jordan Edelson, CEO of TradeZing, a live-streaming, social engagement, Web3 platform designed for millennial and Gen Z traders.

These tools can collect feedback on emotional responses and engagement as consumers participate in real time, giving companies access to authentic reactions, he said.

“When users partake in activities, such as gaming and NFT trading, these experiences create an opportunity for subconscious brand exposure, imprinting on the user’s memory and strengthening their awareness of a brand’s presence,” Edelson said.

Enhanced customer experience and loyalty programs

The metaverse is about experiencing Web 3.0 in a rich manner, said Ramanathan Srikumar, chief solutions officer at Mphasis, an IT services and consulting company. It means the users own their assets, control them, decide how to use them and choose with whom they want to share them. For example, Srikumar said metaverse commerce will be driven by tokens.

“With loyalty points being tokenized, consumers will be willing to spend $2,400 for a pair of virtual sneakers,” Srikumar said.

These decisions are driven by a close association with the brand and a strong understanding of how NFTs work for a brand’s digital portfolio. NFTs also bring consumers closer to the brand.

“Enterprises can use it to create unique experiences and drive engagement with owners of the token,” Srikumar said. “Transforming the loyalty point system enables customers to use metaverse-specific cryptocurrencies or stablecoins as loyalty points. Customers get to spend the cryptocurrencies received as loyalty points in their preferred metaverses.”

3D commerce in the metaverse

The metaverse may drastically increase the number of commerce transactions globally because it is changing the supply of inventory, which could become infinite, said Robert Clarkson, chief revenue officer at Payoneer, a payment platform that connects businesses with customers for online payments. As a result, it will also change the way businesses pay, bill, and receive goods and services.

In particular, it will raise expectations when it comes to the speed of payment processing. In the metaverse, customers will expect instant transactions and delivery of inventory in milliseconds, and sellers will want to be paid equally as fast, he said.

“We look at the metaverse as moving into 3D commerce,” he said.

Traditional commerce, whether at a physical store or online, is 2D in the sense that it is beholden to the physical world, whether via a supply chain to deliver the ultimate product or at the point of sale where the exchange takes place, Clarkson said.

“With the metaverse, you can create the supply instantly — the digital good that’s being purchased,” he said. “The actual locations of both the purchaser and seller have become completely irrelevant as the transaction takes place in this non-physical world.”

Since the metaverse is boundaryless, it doesn’t face many of the roadblocks that can make commerce difficult across geographical borders. Commerce enablers and the businesses they serve should think of consumers in the metaverse as global consumers rather than regional or local.

“This presents a new opportunity to further democratize commerce,” Clarkson said. “To fully get there, commerce enablers must prepare to facilitate an economy within the metaverse that does not inhibit the participation of anyone based on their location. We have to remove physical locations from the equation.”

In addition, the metaverse will constantly evolve depending on the needs and behaviors of participants. At some point, there will be a set of rules as to what’s acceptable within a metaverse for privacy, safety and security.

“We see this type of standardization as extremely important for ensuring equality of access in the metaverse,” he said. “It’s important that the capabilities of participation are extended and equal for everyone around the world. Transacting across countries and currencies is not a roadblock to conducting commerce in the metaverse. Rather, it will be a central pillar to accessing the economic opportunities and experiences the metaverse presents people around the globe.”

The metaverse is creating an environment where there will be access to all methods of payments, Clarkson continued. Being able to easily extend reach to non-fiat currencies will increase opportunities to boost sales for small businesses, but it will also put more pressure on the speed and flexibility of the payment system. Buy now, pay later is just the beginning of new, flexible payment terms that will emerge in the metaverse.

“There will be a lot more fluidity in the options and choices in the metaverse than there are today, because commerce within it is not beholden to the traditional rails that dictate the payments of today, such as ACH, EFT, wire or other major credit cards,” Clarkson said. “That’s one of the most exciting propositions for payments in the metaverse: Will we be able to eliminate the wires and open new possibilities that impact not just commerce in the metaverse but also commerce in the physical?”

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