The customer’s avatar is always right: Managing your customer experience in the metaverse.


Many younger adults can't remember anything but online shopping. They don’t remember when, if you wanted to buy something, you had no choice but to leave your home and go to a physical store. Online shopping is so ubiquitous these days that it's hard for many of us to remember when we couldn't just go on Amazon and buy almost anything we could imagine and have it delivered to our door. In fact, Amazon has been around (initially as just an online bookseller) since 1994. But, in the last twenty years, online shopping has exploded, "US ecommerce sales will cross $1 trillion for the first time in 2022."

In the early days of e-commerce, the average consumer had all sorts of justified fears about shopping online. Data security and privacy were high on the list. Over the last twenty years, online transactions have become more secure, though data breaches and general mishandling of our personal data are still valid concerns. But many people have decided that the convenience of online shopping supersedes these concerns. Another concern was, "how can I buy shoes and clothes online without being able to try them on?" Online stores have gotten around this concern in various ways, from free returns to extensive customer reviews on fit. These mitigations have clearly worked, apparel is the fastest-growing category of online shopping in the US. This is how technology goes; what was unthinkable, even intimidating once, becomes commonplace and even indispensable a few years later. And so will go the metaverse, and specifically retail in the metaverse.

Our recent blog, The metaverse, it isn't just sci-fi anymore. Is your company ready? talked about how an increasing number of companies are starting to take the metaverse seriously, "A recent PwC survey said that 82% of executives expect metaverse plans to be part of their business activities within three years. 66% say their companies are already engaged in some form." Digging into the consumer retail part of this metaverse-related activity, it turns out that selling things in the metaverse is not the stuff of overly active techie imaginations but is already happening today, "Multiple consumer brands have already entered virtual worlds to sell their products as digital items. From Nike to Gucci and even Taco Bell, tens of thousands of dollars are made every month by brands who create and sell virtual products.”

Retail in the metaverse broadly falls into two categories: selling virtual things to be used in the metaverse and selling virtual items that will then be delivered as their physical twin in the real world. An example of the former is someone buying clothes for their digital avatar to wear. An example of the latter is buying clothes for an avatar to wear that then get delivered as actual clothes to the person behind the avatar. But maybe you’re thinking, “okay, but who is actually shopping this way?” According to this PwC consumer survey, “More than 80% of respondents reported shopping across at least three channels over the last six months, with one in three saying they’d used a virtual reality (VR) channel. When asked how they used VR, a surprising number reported using it to buy retail products and luxury goods.”

If you run a consumer company, the metaverse is something you should take seriously. But just as e-commerce raised all sorts of thorny issues, so does the metaverse bring its challenges and opportunities. There are issues related to buying virtual goods to only use in the virtual world. Many of these are challenges with the underlying concept of the metaverse, specifically portability across different virtual platforms. In other words, if you buy a pair of virtual sneakers in one virtual world, at the moment, those sneakers are not available to you when you enter a second virtual world. The holy grail of the metaverse is how to make those sneakers available to your avatar across any virtual world you might enter, interoperability. There are efforts afoot to deal with these issues, including creating standards and using immutable transactions, such as blockchain. This Deloitte piece explains such efforts.

But what about the challenges of buying an item in the metaverse but getting its real-world twin delivered to an actual person? The Deloitte piece suggests, “Organizations may need to advance security policies, processes, and technologies that cross between physical and digital domains, while evolving identity management, threat detection, consent and content management, data protection, and compliance.” While clearly, these are all real issues needing addressing, additional customer experience issues will inevitably arise as your customer journey becomes more complex. To return to our pre-online shopping days: for the most part, you went into a store where they either had something in stock or didn’t. You paid for it and left the store holding your purchase. Online shopping changed that paradigm and metaverse shopping adds significantly greater complexity to the supply chain and fulfillment issues that companies will have to manage, “With e-commerce, we're thinking still in terms of a physical delivery of something...In the metaverse, how do you know if someone's actually taken delivery of it, where do they take delivery of it, where did it come from?” And with this complexity comes even greater opportunities for error and customer dissatisfaction.

In previous blogs, we discussed how BusinessOptix can help your company understand its customer journey and experience to drive brand satisfaction and loyalty. When you can link your customer journey with operational processes to create frictionless customer experiences, you deliver the experiences your customer desire and the results your business demands. With the BusinessOptix process mapping tool, you can map and visualize the end-to-end customer journey across all channels, web, mobile, phone, email, and physical store. And now, let’s add to this list: across the metaverse.

Identifying issues in your customer journey is only part of the challenge (whether your company is operating in the metaverse or not.) Figuring out the best way to address those issues and doing so in a way that doesn’t impact the customer experience while making that determination is hard enough with your current customer channels. Adding a metaverse channel and all that implies can make this challenge exponentially more difficult. The BusinessOptix scenario modeling and simulation tools help you identify problem areas with your processes, whichever channel they apply to, try out potential improvements, and evaluate the difference they will make before implementation.

The evolution of e-commerce has brought enormous challenges and opportunities to retailers and consumers alike. The metaverse will exacerbate existing challenges (such as security and regulatory compliance) and bring unique difficulties. BusinessOptix can help companies make this transition to the metaverse efficient and worthwhile for their organization and a seamless and valuable consumer experience.

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