The metaverse could be the next frontier of ecommerce

Business man using mobile phone and laptop with global network and technology icons on virtual screen
(Image credit: Shutterstock/TippaPatt)

There’s much to be excited about when it comes to the metaverse and Web3, particularly for retailers. This is especially true for brands who have struggled to keep pace with digital experiences using today’s technologies. With emerging tools, businesses could finally unlock the true potential for ecommerce, and create new, unique experiences at the same time.

By now, most people will have seen videos of the metaverse and what it can potentially achieve in the future. For some, it’s a thrilling prospect. For others, there’s a degree of hesitancy. But what this early phase does is enable companies to prepare for the future. In retail, it could provide a much needed shot in the arm at a time when consumers are increasingly calling for better ways to merge the physical and virtual worlds.

We’re reminded of the fact that younger shoppers hold a growing amount of influence on where the industry will go. And at the moment, they’re expecting more. According to research from WP Engine, 57% of Gen Z and 68% of millennials expected to maintain their digital habits after the pandemic. However, brands have seen mixed results on delivering seamless experiences that will keep shoppers incorporating digital into their everyday lives. A new interactive Metaverse could completely transform ecommerce, delivering on the promise of blending the best parts of an in-store and online shopping experience.

Meanwhile, Web3, the framework on which the metaverse is built, can help build trust by supporting brands to get closer to consumers. It could help impact and capitalise on how Gen Z's judge products and services. For example, we could see consumers getting direct access to creators without a middleman, as well as having control of how and to whom they share their personal information. This means strengthening the trust between buyer and brand.

This is a win from two perspectives. For the brands, they can own the relationships with consumers and sell directly to them. For the consumers, they have the inherent trust that Web3 is built on, to give them peace of mind as they explore new shopping experiences. They decide who they share their data with.

Humanizing the experience

A study by Forrester found that 13% of Brits and 19% of Americans think brands should build more branded experiences in the metaverse. Yet a larger proportion (33% and 29% respectively) still don’t understand what the metaverse is, even after being given a description of it. Meanwhile, 36% of Brits and 27% of Americans say they have no need for the metaverse at all. This tells us the metaverse shouldn’t be a solution looking for a problem. It should have a purpose that gives consumers what they need at a time when commerce is quickly changing.

We’ve seen digital experiences increasing, particularly during the pandemic when everyone was forced to shop online. But digital experience should be much more fluid than living on a web browser or mobile app. It should work hand in hand with, and enhance, physical shopping.

There’s a lot at stake here for brands that sell products where the look, sizing, or experience are crucial to making a purchasing decision – such as home furniture, clothes, eyewear, and makeup. How do you know if that coffee table you saw online will suit the décor of your living room? How can you tell if that outfit will look as good on you as it does on the gorgeous model on the website?

Offering a virtual try-before-you-buy, for example, can help buyers feel more confident in their purchasing decisions and reduce the number of items returned.

Turning vision to reality

Virtual worlds sound great – so how do we get there? A technical marvel like the metaverse demands a hyper-flexible software platform to power virtual ecommerce environments. For the metaverse to become an extension of their existing retail offering, brands will need to prepare their digital stores for different kinds of media, devices, and virtual formats. The technology exists today with headless architectures helping to pave the way.

Headless is a type of web architecture that decouples the front end of a website (the graphical user interface or GUI) from the back end (where the code and data live). In this architecture, the front end and back-end work independently. And with this independence comes the freedom to use different mechanisms to develop and display content. You’re no longer tied to one technology that requires you to keep the front and back end wedded to each other. This means developers can create a user interface at the front end that can be tailored to each user, application, or screen – all while keeping the back end secure and robust elsewhere.

Businesses are already using headless for various use cases. According to 2021 research from WP Engine, 64% of enterprise organizations are using a headless approach, which is an almost 25% increase from 2019. Others are planning to roll out this approach soon. Many are using it to develop content that can live across many different channels including mobile apps, smartwatches, voice assistants and digital kiosks. But headless also helps businesses prepare for the future by setting in place the infrastructure now that will enable them to implement new experiences tomorrow. So even if a retail business decides it doesn’t want to venture into the Metaverse immediately, it can still use headless to create content now that can live in the Metaverse whenever the company is ready.

Headless software architectures address the increasingly fragmented world of omnichannel experiences. Some companies choose to build on WordPress and, in doing so, they are backed by one of the world’s largest developer communities. The best part is that by going open source, brands can integrate a whole host of services and tools, helping build a virtuous circle of better experiences, more users, and greater business impact.

The metaverse may seem like a far-flung extravagance for many businesses, but there are many elements that are being implemented today. In any case, this isn’t just about whether the tech is ready. In many cases, it is – depending on what exactly a business wants to create. Right now, the biggest question is whether brands are willing to evolve along with their customers and create new ways to build relationships. This is about consumers getting closer to the brand and being loyal advocates for the brand, rather than simply buying from it. That’s the shift we’re looking to make. The metaverse will be a key way to make that happen. 

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Fabio Torlini
As Managing Director, Fabio Torlini leads WP Engine’s strategy, revenue growth and operations in the EMEA region. With over 15 years experience in the hosting and cloud industries, Fabio has a thorough understanding of all aspects of IT B2B sales, marketing, scaling operations in Europe and management. He held business leadership roles at Cinven, Rackspace, XO Communications and GX Networks. Fabio holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in European Business Studies from Brunel University in London.