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Retail in the Metaverse

What opportunities are now available for companies

A virtual world that will be considered as an additional reality to our real world? This digital space currently exists as a metaverse on various platforms such as Decentraland, The Sandbox or Fortnite. We can generate an avatar in the three-dimensional extension so as to visit virtual concerts or art exhibitions and purchase digital goods. What we already know from interactive games like Second Life now has an entirely different dimension. Since gamers and artists have already discovered the metaverse for themselves, it’s now time for brands and the retail trade to explore the potential here. At the moment, it’s a promise – the promise of an online world that will soon exist and which is linked to our reality as a virtually permeable world.

Are we initiating the next stage of the Internet with the metaverse – and if so, what does it mean and need for retail to be part of it?

On 10 October, the digital association Bitkom organised a roundtable entitled “Retail in the Metaverse” as an all-day event in Babelsberg. In addition to input from Dr Sebastian Klöß, Head of Consumer Technology, AR/VR & Metaverse at Bitkom and Bianka Kokott, Digital Transformation Officer, there were contributions from other industry experts, including the MediaTech Hub members Eric Wolff from Halostage and Sven Bliedung from Volucap as well as Anna Franziska Michel from and Benjamin Heese from Feelbelt.

To kick off the event, Sebastian Klöß and Bianka Kokott outlined the most important questions raised by the topic: what about gaming? What about NFTs? What is the tax and legal situation? Which defined standards already exist? And how far has the technology already come? There was soon agreement at the event as far as retail trade is concerned: it pays to be there from the very beginning. Not only to avoid repeating the mistakes of bricks-and-mortar retail with regard to e-commerce, but also to help shape the development, sound out new business models and generate learnings.

Products and business models for the third dimension

For example, the digital and playful environment of the metaverse makes creative product presentations possible. Food retailer Kaufland had a store built in the metaverse in the style of the Nintendo Switch game. The children’s bicycle manufacturer Puky is giving interested buyers the chance to use AR to test the saddle height and their model of choice in digital showrooms. On an international level, sportswear giant Nike is experimenting with Nikeland where users can of course find digital sneakers, clothing and accessories for their avatars besides ideas for games and sports. And this involves the testing of all kinds of monetisation and activation strategies. The momentum is growing internationally – many people are already prepared to spend money on virtual objects or exhibits. While a Bitkom study reported this year that 67 percent of Germans say they have never heard or read about it, 27 percent of those who are familiar with the concept of the metaverse can already imagine shopping there – and it is even one in three in the 16-29 age group.

Virtual goods are more actively traded. For retail companies, this can give them the advantage of being able to launch and test new virtual products at a relatively low cost and thus expand their own portfolio. Nike is also one who has cooperated in the metaverse and launched a stylish sneaker edition.

There was consensus in the roundtable, however, that one shouldn’t resort to action for action’s sake. You need to have a reason for having a presence there – and that also goes for bricks-and-mortar retail. What incentive can be given to the users? Sebastian Klöß emphasised in the subsequent discussion that the metaverse is not replacing retail. It is just another additional channel. This is not a new world replacing the old one – rather, it is an invitation to expand.

The creation of digital, three-dimensional content is necessary for the presence in the metaverse. Media technologies such as Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality are thus crucial elements for the metaverse. Apps with AR already exist showing us what the sneaker we are currently interested in online would then look like on our foot. And thanks to the technical development in 3D data, it’s much easier and cheaper for retailers to present their entire product range online or to replace it in the coming season. The time-consuming, expensive extrapolation and scanning of products was an obstacle for a long time.

The future of shopping?

“If you ignore all the hype, then it’s obvious one needs an experience for retail in the metaverse, something complementary that not only represents my need for consumption, but also manages to combine all of it with something entertaining,” says Bianka Kokott.

Avatars, for example, are good ways of enabling us to slip into completely different roles. The metaverse as an extension of my world also includes a great social aspect: an exchange of information between people is a basic human need. “We get a colossal added value with the metaverse – we are able to arrange to meet with others and interact in groups or even change groups. This goes way beyond my life in front of a screen. Avatars and these meetings give us a sense of presence that will become even more important in the years to come,” says Klöß.

The slow testing also applies to the target group. Prospective customers can slowly be introduced to the metaverse by taking small steps or using reality-enhancing offers like AR. To do this, the retail trade has to understand the customers’ needs and think outside the box of the real everyday world.

At the end of the day, it could be concluded that it doesn’t take millions to put the first feelers out in the direction of the metaverse. The retail companies should engage with this subject in the future and enter into a dialogue with experts from the film, games and digital sectors who can already offer many interfaces with the metaverse. The participants were then given a tour of Halostage’s virtual production studio and the Volucap volumetric studio in Babelsberg. Halostage’s LED wall allows scenes to be filmed realistically in front of every kind of setting that is being projected in the background.

Thanks to the resolution of 32 cameras and a unique lighting system, the Volucap is one of the few studios worldwide that can scan people in motion in three dimensions. Both recording technologies were originally developed for the film industry and are perfectly suited for the metaverse and the new reality.

About the programme of events:

Bitkom hosts regular roundtables under the metaverse forum by bitkom banner, bringing together the key metaverse players from its network and beyond. This programme of events will see the metaverse being discussed from the perspectives of AR & VR, blockchain, intellectual property & digital content, marketing as well as law and taxation. Participants can look forward to presentations by renowned experts.