User choosing and buying virtual items in the metaverse using cryptocurrencies.
Image: elenabsl/Adobe Stock

Forty-two percent of consumers plan to incorporate the metaverse into their shopping this holiday season, with the majority (88%) planning to shop for their avatar, according to a recent survey by human insight company UserTesting.

The survey of more than 2,000 American shoppers by market research company OnePoll found a nearly even split between men (350) and women (394) who will shop in the metaverse, with the majority falling between the ages of 26 and 41.

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

In addition to providing a metaverse experience for shoppers, retailers should consider “phygital” strategies that combine elements of digital and physical experiences, according to Janelle Estes, chief insights officer at UserTesting.

“For example, Target shoppers can check inventory online, see exactly where it is in the store, and then go find it and buy it themselves or order it to be delivered curbside,’’ Estes told TechRepublic. “Options and convenience are critical to keeping customers coming back.”

Forrester Vice President and Research Director Mike Proulx characterized mainstream commerce in the metaverse as very new.

“While I’m sure parents will be stocking up on Roblox ‘Robux’ gift cards for their kids, no one is going to be rushing to 3D virtual worlds to score Black Friday deals anytime soon,” he said.

To learn more about the metaverse, TechRepublic Academy is featuring a bundle geared toward developers including information on AR.

Mike Mason, global head of technology at tech consultancy Thoughtworks, said he doesn’t think shopping in the metaverse will see significant traction this holiday shopping, but agreed that when it does, it will be avatar-driven.

Thoughtworks defines the metaverse “as being about the embodied internet, a 3D experience powered by VR or AR, but many people will include components of Web3 in their definition,’’ Mason noted. “For holiday shopping in a 3D internet, we think there’s likely to be only a limited amount, mainly with players of games such as Roblox or Fortnite adding to their avatar’s outfits.”

Shopping for non-fungible tokens and digital assets might attract some activity, but NFT sales have dropped drastically from their previous highs, he added.

That said, it will be interesting to see what Nike is planning to do with .Swoosh, its Web3 platform that will eventually let users buy, sell and trade virtual shoes and apparel, which opens on Friday, he said.

“Personally, I think they’ll announce a virtual sneaker design tool along with a gaming or metaverse tie-in, such as being able to wear your virtual sneakers in Roblox,’’ Mason said. “They might start to take advantage of some of the other capabilities of NFTs, such as using the tokens to allow access to member ‘exclusives’. Part of what everyone missed around NFTs is this angle — possession of the digital asset might allow you membership in a virtual club.”

There is value in that, and not just from hoping that your digital asset appreciates in value, he said.

“It’s exciting to see brands investing in metaverse-related experiments, and we’ve been advising that these experiments are a great way to stay involved as the metaverse concept evolves,” Mason said.

Nostalgia returns to shopping

A surprising finding from the UserTesting survey was that even with inflation and lingering post-pandemic anxiety, we can expect to see a return to the in-person shopping experience on Black Friday and during the 2022 holiday season.

The survey also found that heading to the store during the holidays is once again in vogue, with 63% of respondents saying they consider the brick-and-mortar Black Friday shopping a tradition they don’t want to miss.

The survey revealed a nearly even split between consumers who prefer to shop online and in stores. A third intends to do both.

More than two in five people surveyed (43%) said they miss the excitement of in-person Black Friday shopping, with instant gratification being a top motivator for plans to hit the stores.

Immediate fulfillment and the in-store experience were essential to Gen Z respondents, with 81% listing these as their primary reason for visiting stores, versus 49% for Millennials.

Forty-two percent of all respondents said in-store shopping is more important to them now than before the pandemic.

Black Friday shoppers want digital capabilities in the store

Although in-person shopping remains popular, customers now increasingly expect the digital technology they have become accustomed to throughout their lives to be weaved into the brick-and-mortar experience, the survey said.

For example, 51% of poll respondents want smart shopping carts or an app to tell them what aisle an item is in, and 47 percent like using promo codes or digital coupons.

The numbers illustrate how these and other digital capabilities, such as augmented reality window displays, digital kiosks and price checks, and QR code ordering capabilities have become popular with shoppers and a competitive differentiator for retailers, the survey said.

Customer experience in-store vs. the metaverse

In some cases, there may be a need to replicate the in-store experience or create similar experiences in the metaverse, but Estes believes that “the metaverse was designed to create more engaging and enhanced experiences that provide a ‘wow’ factor for users beyond what in-store experiences can deliver.”

Even as the metaverse continues to gain popularity, it’s important for retailers to remember that it is still relatively new, she observed.

“The reality is there are so many other channels for retailers to engage customers, such as web, mobile, in-store and social, and they need to also focus on strengthening those experiences,” Estes said.

Brands should not be trying to match virtual experiences with traditional in-store experiences, Mason noted, as they are very different mediums and have different strengths for connecting with customers.

“The key thing to remember is that metaverse experiences are new and opt-in,” he said. “They need to be fun and engaging for the user to find something worthwhile in them. After all, moving to a competing brand’s metaverse experience is just a click or a hand-wave away. It is important for companies to consider how their brand will translate to a new medium.”

Brands should consider how their brand representatives will greet consumers. Will they be serious, fun or edgy? What kind of language and voice will be used, and how will their brand avatar present itself visually?

Mason also advised companies to factor safety into their metaverse plans.

“With any new medium, there are potential downsides, and brands should be very careful that their metaverse experience is properly moderated and that people can feel safe inside that virtual space,’’ he said.

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