AR and metaverse – are they the future of e-commerce? 

23.11.2023 Katarzyna Zajchowska

Virtual reality is one of the most important trends emerging in e-commerce. Thanks to metaverse and augmented reality (AR), online retailers can showcase their products and even start offering virtual versions of them (called NFTs). In this post, we want to show you how these two technologies can change online trade. 

Let’s start with the metaverse. 

What is metaverse? 

Put briefly, the metaverse is a virtual world that can be accessed via VR goggles and a computer/smartphone. In this virtual world, people use avatars to represent themselves, and they can do pretty much the same things as in the real world – visit different places, play games, meet with friends, attend events (we’ve already seen concerts in metaverse), and, yes – go shopping as well. 

Some brands have already set up their virtual stores, and customers can visit them, browse products, and buy them. For example, earlier this year, Nike informed about the market they are launching Nikeland – a virtual “micro metaverse” built within the Roblox ecosystem. 

Nike made sure to provide users with a full-on virtual experience. Users who enter Nikeland can try on virtual products (of course, with their avatars), buy NFTs (we’ll say a few words about them in a moment), and take part in diverse mini-games for prizes. And, of course, there is also a digital showroom where users can view different Nike products and buy them. 

What are NFTs? 

This acronym stands for non-fungible tokens. In simple terms, it is simply a kind of digital content that is connected to the blockchain network. Every token comes with a certificate of authenticity so that it cannot be faked. In general, NFT tokens can be used to sell and buy digital goods, e.g., a virtual representation of footwear, like in the Nike example. 

How can e-commerce brands use the metaverse? 

Although this virtual world is still in its infancy, the e-commerce world has already seen some potential when it comes to online (or rather virtual) trade. Having access to a whole virtual world means that there is nothing stopping these brands from creating virtual stores where customers can walk inside, buy products (both virtual and real), and pay for them using virtual currency (which can be based on real money; just like Second Life’s tradable Linden dollars). 

Now, let’s have a look at a technology that’s kind of similar – augmented reality (AR). AR also uses a virtual image of diverse products, but it works a bit differently. 

What is AR? 

Augmented reality is a technology that uses a 3D image of a given object and puts it on the image from the camera of a smartphone or tablet. Thanks to this, the user can “see” how a given item will look on themselves (e.g., when it comes to cosmetics or clothing) or in their home (e.g., in the case of furniture and decorations). 

See how this technology works in practice on the example of L’Oreal products: 

The above example shows AR based on a mobile application, but it is not necessary to use them. More and more often, it is enough to have the appropriate link to use the AR module built into the store’s website. Sometimes, when shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, customers can see link or QR codes located near a given product. All the customer has to do is scan the QR code and open a specific website on their mobile device. The AR module shows up without the need to install any additional software. 

How can retailers use augmented reality? 

In short, to showcase their products in a more immersive way. Take shoes as an example. Seeing how the given model looks on standard pack shots may not be enough to assess whether it would look good on a given person. With AR, users can “see” themselves already wearing the virtual model of the shoes they intend to buy. This way, they can make an informed decision, which, by the way, lowers the risk of the return. 

Of course, AR is mostly for online retailers. After all, in a standard store, you can simply take a given model off the shelf and put it on. But when you’re shopping for shoes or any other product online, it can be a vital help allowing you to order the product that suits you well. 

It’s the same story with your home. Imagine buying a sofa. Will it fit in your living room? Will it look good? With AR, you can answer these vital questions without the need to buy a given piece of furniture. This is what IKEA thought, too. Their IKEA Place app enables users to use AR and see how the furniture they want to buy will look (and fit!) in their space: 

Wrapping up 

Both metaverse and AR have the same goal – to make online shopping more convenient and engaging. While metaverse is still in its infancy, we can expect both technologies to grow and become even more engaging and realistic. If you’re currently running an online store, perhaps it’s a good idea to include at least one of those technologies in your strategy. Today, you can find many solutions enabling you to make the most of augmented reality or other technologies. Also, check out how AR and VR are working out of the furniture industry at this link.

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