The metaverse’s impact on experiential retail – Retailing Africa


by Leanne Goott. For retail sectors, the metaverse has the potential to transcend any current real or digital customer experience. The metaverse is a digitally enhanced, immersive virtual space of interconnected environments and enhanced realities in which people interact with one another and digital objects through avatars of one’s own creation. The current technologies shaping the metaverse include augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Other technologies bound to power the metaverse include voice-activated or speech recognition technologyhand trackinggaze tracking and hapticsBrain-Computer Interface (BCI) technologies will enable an even fuller immersive experience between the real and virtual. These technologies will serve a symbiotic function that will empower the metaverse’s ideal of seamless control, interaction, and movement.

Commonly referred to as our world’s 3D twin, the metaverse has immense potential to revolutionise how we live, work, play, trade, shop, and more. For retail sectors the metaverse will replace the form and function of physical stores with an immersive reality that far transcends any current digital shopping experience.

Meta-retail’s multisensory drive

Consumers act on and react to perceptions they evaluate, interpret, store, or forget. The most powerful tool retailers have is the ability to engage shoppers through their five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. To date, most brick-and-mortar retailers have lacked in engaging all the senses in their quest to develop multisensory experiences that drive repeat visits and purchases, and those that have tried have forged stronger customer-brand connections. If the metaverse becomes retail’s final frontier, it will equally have to develop unique multisensory experiences that engage touch, smell, and taste, not just sight or hearing.

Sight and hearing

Initially, the metaverse will primarily appeal to sight and hearing through visual and aural experiences that have the potential to transcend any real-world experience. Retailers have always known that sight is the first sense to be stimulated through creating visually appealing environments. The metaverse has infinite potential for taking this visual experience to a whole new level through the creative use of colours, shapes, textures, shades, depth, animation, and emotion graphics. The possibilities are endless.

Similarly, meta-retail spaces will employ sounds that simulate real-world experiences of a busy store or the friendly address of a virtual assistant or other avatars commenting on products. The metaverse not only has infinite potential to duplicate this buzz but also enhance it beyond the real-world experience.

However, there is one challenge. How does one duplicate the real-life sound presence of, let’s say, a pair of high-end speakers? Surely this real-space experience of the sound immediacy, stereo imaging precision, and detailed sound-staging can’t be duplicated, not through a headset with audio signal limitations, not at this stage anyway. And that’s also what makes the metaverse even more exciting from a tech development perspective. As the metaverse is being built, we’ll see an acceleration of new techs to consummate the customer experience. Through these new technologies, life will also be given to our other senses.

Smell and taste 

While future developments in haptics (the science of creating a sense of touch in open space) and associated technologies promise to bring meta-life to the sense of touch, the question developers are grappling with is how we incorporate smell and taste into the metaverse. Smell is the only sense that has a direct line to the brain’s limbic system, which deals with long-term memory and emotion. Brand experiences are dependent on such scent memories that affect emotion.

That said, a company called OVR Technology is developing scent technology for virtual reality that could also be used in the metaverse. Their microtechnology produces nanoparticles of scent that activate in millisecond increments. This tech operates wirelessly over Bluetooth and comes with a replaceable scent cartridge plugged into a VR headset and releases tiny scent particles depending on your distance from an object.

On the other hand, the sense of taste will probably have the least impact on the metaverse. But still, currently, technologies are being developed that will provide users with taste when exploring virtual spaces. For one, recently, Japanese researchers from the Meiji University in Tokyo developed a device that emulates sensations in the taste buds. The device works with five different gels whose intensities can be adjusted to create ‘flavour’. While this technology is still in its infancy, it holds tremendous promise for incorporating the sense of taste into the metaverse. Hopefully, for instance, one day, we’ll be able to send our avatars to join a wine tasting or experience the various tastes of a foreign fresh produce or spice market. The tech potential is already with us.

Technologically empowering all the senses is the final frontier of sensory engagement in virtual retail spaces. If our twin universe is bound to replicate and improve on experiential retail, it simply will have to incorporate unique multisensory experiences. And this is already happening. It seems there really are no limits to the metaverse. The day might even come when physical retail spaces are redundant or have closed for meta-revamps.

 

Main image credit: MIA.

 

 

Leanne Goott is marketing manager of Mobile in Africa (MIA). Her more than 12 years of experience includes digital marketing strategy and execution, integrated marketing, team and relationship management, and event management. She believes the role of marketing in an age of greater connectivity and intensifying customer expectations, has never been more important.

 

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