Like the elusive term “social media,” the “metaverse” is an always-evolving concept that retailers are just beginning to explore. During the recent Women in Retail and Total Retail Virtual Exchange, Rebecca Minkoff and Emma Chiu, global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, sat down with Phyllis Marcus, a partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth, to discuss what the metaverse is all about and what retailers can do to potentially capitalize on the opportunity at hand.
Defining the Metaverse
For Minkoff, whose brand was one of the first to delve into the metaverse, the virtual world is a new extension of the physical experience, one that allows for creative people to go beyond what we can do in the real world.
“To me, it’s an extension of online,” Minkoff said. “It’s sort of the 3D, AR/XR/VR portal to have an experience that really enhances real-time retail — if you’re creative.”
For Chiu, who has spoken with dozens of experts about the metaverse, “(it’s) an extension of our lives as enhanced by technology.”
Chiu sees the metaverse in several stages: The first is the one we currently have available to us — a “persistent, reactive, social world.” Think video games like Fortnight and Roblox that offer 3D virtual spaces. The next stage will occur when those types of worlds are interconnected, with users able to have one avatar that can go between virtual worlds. The third stage, Chiu predicts, will be one in which our physical lives will exist with a digital overlay — i.e., the physical and digital worlds will interconnect and weave together.
What Brands Can Do in the Metaverse
Minkoff said having a presence in the metaverse is a chance for brands to be or do something creative with marketing that they might not normally do in the real world. “I think it’s an opportunity to say, ‘If we can be anything that does relate back to us, what could that be?’ It’s advertising at the end of the day.”
Chiu said users can own brands’ digital products in the metaverse, something that entices younger generations, who are looking for both ownership and experience. That’s where non-fungible tokens (NFTs) come into play.
“We need to think of NFTs not just as a digital replica of something in real life, but also as an experience,” noted Chiu.
Rebecca Minkoff’s first NFT drop of digital garments allowed users to wear them in the metaverse. The brand also replicated the garments physically so people could wear them both in the digital and physical worlds. Then Minkoff offered the first NFT purchasers a unique experience of a private Zoom meeting with her, during which she detailed the creation of the NFT.
What Metaverse Skeptics Should Think About
Here’s what Chiu tells clients who are skeptical of the metaverse: “If I’m presenting this information to you, but I take out the word ‘metaverse,’ really what you’re hearing is, ‘The next evolution of digital.’ Who wouldn’t want to be part of it?”