It’s high time retailers embraced the huge tech opportunities of the metaverse, otherwise they risk being left behind, warns Joost De Bot, vice-president and general manager EMEA at Jitterbit.

As the great and the good from the retail industry gather at NRF, the metaverse will no doubt be a trending topic at the show. But up until now, retailers haven’t been leading the innovation charge.

Rather, it’s games platforms like Fortnite and Roblox that have been helping the world conceptualise what the metaverse could be – an integrated world where social meets commerce meets gaming meets, well, anything.

“We’re finally seeing signs that some retail brands have wrapped their heads around the metaverse”

We’re finally seeing signs that some retail brands have wrapped their heads around the metaverse. Samsung is leading the way, unveiling its virtual store Samsung 837X in the Decentraland platform on Sunday, albeit for a ‘limited time’.

The store combines three unique experiences, where users will be able to compete in quests for NFT (non-fungible token) badges and let their avatars’ hair down at a live show hosted by DJ Gamma Vibes.

What are other retailers doing?

Samsung isn’t the first brand to test the virtual water with retail pop-ups on metaverse properties. In 2021, Gucci launched its Garden Experience in Roblox, the online multiplayer platform popular with children and teens.

While Roblox and high fashion might not seem an obvious fit (the most common avatar on Roblox is affectionately known as ‘bacon hair’), Gucci’s most expensive digital accessory – a Queen Bee Dionysus bag – traded for $4,100 (£3,000), which is $500 (£365) more than its real-world Gucci equivalent.

These one-off brand experiences, PR stunts and high-concept demos are all an important part of retail’s inevitable journey into the metaverse. But the space – and customer expectations – are moving at hyper-speed, while retailers, it could be argued, are still in first gear.

“The space – and customer expectations – are moving at hyper-speed, while retailers, it could be argued, are still in first gear”

Around 40% of the world’s population are gamers, with millions already paying to attend their favourite artists’ concerts on online gaming platforms.

This growing audience is impatient for the opportunity to engage and transact regularly with their favourite brands on these platforms too. If today’s leading retail brands don’t rise to the challenge and meet that demand, other newer brands will quickly emerge that do.

No more games

I believe it’s time established retailers and brands stop playing around with the metaverse and get serious about how meta-commerce will work in reality.

What digital real estate do they need to acquire and manage on popular metaverse platforms? What will their in-store experience be within the metaverse – and importantly, how will it connect to the brand’s other channels?

Will transactions only be digital, or will customers be able to buy real-world services and products too? And how will fulfilment and customer services be integrated with the wider business?

The only way for brands and retailers to survive and succeed in this brave new world is to transform into what Gartner calls a hyper-automated business, embracing a hyper-automation strategy and a fully integrated business.

“The metaverse represents a digital realm where anyone can be anyone or anything, and potentially transact anything”

The metaverse represents a kind of hyper-reality. A digital realm where anyone can be anyone or anything – and potentially transact anything.

As products and fulfilment become infinitely more digital and diverse, customer demand in the metaverse will become even less predictable – leaving no room for manual processes in your business to hide.

Reimagine your business

These changes mean retailers need to reimagine their businesses, products and services, and most importantly their relationship with the customer – embedding the ability to rapidly manage and automate the integration of tens, even hundreds, of different tools, technologies, software applications and platforms.

It’ll be worth it. Forecasters predict the metaverse market will be worth $800bn (£587bn) by 2024. But retailers have got to get up to speed with hyper-automation now – there’s virtually no time to waste.

Joost De Bot is vice-president and general manager EMEA at Jitterbit 

Joost De Bot

Jitterbit specialises in business transformation and automation by combining the power of APIs and integration.

Joost De Bot has previously worked in the Benelux region for Dell EMC and Mulesoft in vice-president and director capacities, and has extensive experience with enterprise software vendors.