As we have seen, the metaverse is the next step in the evolution of our computing and communications infrastructure which started with the personal computer, followed by the internet, mobile internet and the smartphone. Games have followed their own parallel track, and even though consoles are still popular, the smartphone is subsuming gaming. Our work lives which were very much in-person went online because of the pandemic, and are getting enriched with virtual backgrounds and immersive views.
Shopping too is getting transformed with richer real-time interactions, enhanced with augmented reality. Mint wrote about the use of augmented reality recently: “Brands like Lenskart and CaratLane allowed customers to try on their products virtually. Dhamodaran Subramanian, general manager, Takeleap, a technology media company with offices in Chennai, Delhi and Dubai, estimates that AR-driven conversion could now be anywhere between 20-30%. Several international and Indian brands are launching or expanding their AR technology and use. In July 2020, for instance, Gucci partnered with Snapchat, using its AR try-on lens for sneakers. And in May this year, Walmart announced it was acquiring Israeli startup Zeekit, which had developed a dynamic virtual fitting room.”
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, had this to say in an interview with LA Times in May 2020: “Just as every company a few decades ago created a webpage, and then at some point every company created a Facebook page, I think we’re approaching the point where every company will have a real-time live 3D presence.”
Grant Paterson of Wunderman Thompson says: “[The metaverse] is the future of the internet, a vision in which we will shift seamlessly between virtual and physical experiences, economies, environments and ecosystems… The rapid growth and diversification of these virtual environments will force the marketing industry to fundamentally reconceptualize how brands communicate with consumers.”
Even as there is an entertainment and social focus for the metaverse, business-to-consumer commerce will also be transformed. Like any new technology, evolution will happen through innovations in many different directions; there is no single dominant vision of the consumer of the future and the metaverse.
In this context, it is our imagination which can help envision and create tomorrow’s B2C metaverse. We can think of today’s 2D websites and apps as the rudimentary forerunners. In the past quarter century, they have taken us to places and shown us products we otherwise would never have experienced or seen. The natural next step will be to create parallel worlds where our digital twins (embodied by software agents) roam looking for the next things to buy, and even negotiating on our behalf to get deals. These agents will be persistent – unlike today, where the relationship ends once we exit the website or shut the app. These AI embodiments will have a life of their own, epitomising our always-on world, learning from our actions, and anticipating our next needs.