Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 24)

Extra

Since I wrote the series, there has been a lot more discussion about the metaverse.

For one, Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth and Nick Clegg defined the metaverse as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful.” They added: “The metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone. Just like the internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not. And it won’t be built overnight. Many of these products will only be fully realized in the next 10-15 years.”

Wunderman Thompson published a report on the metaverse. From the foreword: “The virtual domain has become an all-encompassing space where commerce, education, entertainment, community-building, wellness, work and more can be accessed. As more people spend time online, digital third spaces are becoming the new hangouts, making this a thriving environment for brands and influencers. But the potential of the metaverse goes beyond the digital domain, allowing for interactions that blur the boundaries of physical and digital.” Their view is captured below:

The report covers an array of themes: MetaLives, MetaSpaces, MetaBusiness, and MetaSocieties. A few interesting ideas described:

  • Virtual possessions: Consumers are replicating their physical daily habits in the virtual realm—assigning a growing value to digital assets and giving rise to new direct-to-avatar (D2A) business models.
  • Liminal spaces: Blended virtual and physical experiences—are already revolutionizing the culture and art scenes. In future, expect to see similar blurred reality activations in retail spaces, brand hubs and business centers.
  • Gamevertising: Bigger than the movie and music industries combined, gaming has become a playground for brands and marketers to connect with an engaged audience.
  • New retail frontiers: Digital-twin stores and augmented shopping experiences are paving the way for the next retail frontier—one that is intuitive, immersive and engaging.

Alexander Fernandez wrote about the four key drivers behind the metaverse:

  • The retirement of baby boomers and the rise of the digital-first Gen-X, Millennials, Xenial and Gen-Zers who grew up playing video games, surfing the web and traveling the world.
  • The digitization of financial assets integrating across all aspects of life (for example, blockchain, smart contracts, cryptocurrencies and NFTs).
  • The future of work as the pandemic revealed that most knowledge businesses could function remotely as long as they had transparent cultures, processes and technologies to support them
  • The rise of the next two billion people as emerging markets in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa have become sources of raw talent eager to participate in the global economy.

He added: “Whether you’re looking at new ways to maintain brand loyalty, engage new customers or streamline your workflow, video game technology and methodology can be the key to unlocking them. It’s not only creative industries that benefit but also traditional industries like healthcare, transportation and education. Remember when gamification was a big deal? That was just the beginning. The third epoch of gaming has arrived, and it’s bringing the Metaverse with it. “

A column on Nasdaq.com: “The evolution of this metaverse, the merging of physical and virtual realities into something completely new, will usher in an enormously digitized economy. Digital currencies will utterly dominate, and political borders will become increasingly difficult to enforce in a virtual world. Current tax codes and regulations aren’t prepared to handle a virtual designer selling virtual clothes to avatars that can then resell them to others in this metaverse – wear and tear will be a bit lighter than on the streets of San Francisco. What about the virtual architect that designs a virtual home that can then be moved to anywhere in the metaverse … while the world today is struggling with enormous levels of debt, challenging demographics, social strife, and a pandemic, a whole new world is evolving. Within it, the human potential to solve problems, collaborate, create, and meaningfully connect in ways that defy geography and social biases will ultimately result in medical advances beyond what we can imagine today, wealth generation that will overpower today’s global financial challenges, and greater compassion for one another.”

A column from Brookings: “The seminal asset, and thus the seminal issue, in the digital era is access to—and control of—personal information. In the current online world, the digital companies have siphoned personal information and then stored, manipulated, and repackaged that data in order to sell access to targeted users. If the metaverse is moving to a persistent pseudo-world, then the amount of data collected will be immense, as will the opportunity to monetize that data.”

**

The metaverse action is just beginning and opening a new world of opportunities for brands to engage with their customers. Together with the blockchain, cryptocurrencies, NFT, DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation), Web3 beckons!

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 23)

Summary

This has been a long journey into a future that is coming. As with the internet, no one is exactly sure how it will evolve. The innovations creep up on us with the early adopters starting to use them. Today’s users of Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft will be tomorrow’s customers and will therefore expect richer engagement experiences with brands. They will drive the cutting edge and the construction of the metaverse future.

While the metaverse will be led by our desire to share experiences in the form of space and time with others, the µniverse will be driven by the need for a brand to offer differentiated and rich experiences for its most valuable and profitable customers – that little extra that wins them over for life. Just as it was very difficult to imagine all the possibilities of the Internet in the mid-1990s, it is our 2D and small screen imagination that limits our exploration today of the possibilities of the metaverse future. But that future is coming. Technology has a relentless forward march and early failures are but small blips in the path of progress.

In this series, I have, in a limited way, explored some ideas. Atomic rewards to counter attention recession, a micro-currency Mu to provide access to the new world, gamification and 3D interfaces to combine with avatars, digital twins and software agents to provide a persistent presence in this parallel universe. All of these are individually there; what entrepreneurs need to do is to start putting them together.

One of my first projects when I started working at NYNEX in 1989 was to explore an Intel technology called Digital Video Interactive (DVI). I would imagine replicas of places which one could explore via the desktop. Later, in the early days of IndiaWorld in the late-1990s, I would imagine a 3D mall as a manifestation of the global marketplace that I wanted to create. And then came SimCity, which enabled the development of buildings, offices, factories and their interplay. Video games and movies fed our fascination for alternate worlds. The big difference now is that the technologies are finally ready to place us in these new worlds. Instead of static, detached, game-like interfaces, we are getting to a future where reality gets extended into a “mirror world.”

The metaverse is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to completely reimagine and construct something very new and different. My lens in this series has been the brand-customer relationship. The physical and anonymous past of that relationship has now become digital and data-driven. The µniverse will transform it further. As Alan Kay said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The best way to imagine the metaverse future is to build it!

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 22)

Action Agenda

The metaverse – or the µniverse as I term the B2C metaverse – will get built over the years to come. Meanwhile, CEOs and their marketing teams can take many actions to begin the journey to the new world.

First, collect customer data across all touchpoints. Machines and not humans in marketing departments are going to process this, so there is no need to economise! Every datapoint is a piece that goes on to create a single, unified, composite view of the customer, so no data is irrelevant. Computing and storage are cheap enough to make this almost a given. And yet few companies do this well. So, start by creating a “Chief Data Officer” (distinct from Chief Digital Officer). In the right hands and with the right software, data can tell amazing stories.

Second, invest in a full-stack communications and martech solution. The “full-stack” bit is important. The mistake marketers make is to get the next shiny point solution and then face a big challenge with silo-ed data and integration hurdles; they lose sight of the forest for the trees. For the magic of AI-ML to work, a single omnichannel stack is the way to go.

Third, lay the foundation for Velvet Rope Marketing – by analysing the customer data to calculate customer lifetime value (CLV) and decode the Best Customer Genome (BCG). CLV will help identify the Best Customers, and BCG will offer clues on the ideal customer profile and journey.

Fourth, construct digital twins for the Best Customers. AI-ML software can do this. With this, it will also become possible to predict the next best action that needs to be proposed for the customer. This is an iterative process – with every new customer input in the form of an action (or inaction) creating a new output in the form of personalised recommendations.

Fifth, consider atomic rewards as the answer to information overload and attention recession. This is where Mu, the attention currency, comes into play. Selected customers can be rewarded for their attention (push messages to begin with). Atomic rewards help nudge the customer along the journey and also bring in an element of gamification.

Sixth, imagine new, rich experiences for Best Customers. What is it that will surprise and delight them? How can the combination of content, context and community create lasting memories and the urge to share and refer others like them?

Seventh, use gaming engines to give life to these experiences in a private µniverse. Even as the larger metaverse takes shape, it is possible to create gateways to new worlds with today’s technologies to strengthen relationships with the Best Customers – the first step to creating a profipoly (profits monopoly).

Each one of these seven actions can be begun today – readying the business for tomorrow’s world. The basics of business success have always remained the same: get the category’s best customers, keep them forever, and persuade them to refer their friends and family. The metaverse is the next evolution in doing the basics even better. The digital journey that began with the Internet is ready for its next – and most exciting – big leap. It is our combined imagination that will birth the new µniverse future.

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 21)

A New World

The µniverse may sound like science fiction today, but it is waiting to be constructed. It is inhabited by our digital twin – much like we have personas in the games we play. There is one big difference; when we exit the game, the persona also exits. Instead imagine persistence, where the digital twin – constantly learning from our actions engaging with brands – stays on in the metaverse. The digital twin is constructed from our digital pheromones and AI-ML engines. The twin, undeterred by attention recession, can chat with brand bots, consume an infinite supply of marketing messages, and identify which of these merit our indulgence. Which book to buy next, which news story to read next, which movie to watch next – the digital twin helps us choose from the vast cornucopia of offerings. It can also spawn offspring in the form of software agents which can ferret out nuggets beyond what may be obvious to us.

The µniverse is the habitat of the digital twin. There can be a single twin created by each of us. What is perhaps more likely in the near-term is that there will be a digital twin created by every brand which lets them predict what we will do next. It is like playing Chess – a human can perhaps play a few other humans simultaneously but only a computer can play millions of humans at the same time. In the same vein, marketing managers can determine next actions for a limited number of  cohorts of customers, but only in the µniverse can the next best actions of millions of customers be individually predicted and consequent actions be taken to nudge them along those journeys.

Constructing the µniverse will require new tools – just like making the first-generation of HTML websites needed site builders. These tools are likely to come from the world of gaming. For most customers of a brand, the regular website or the app is good enough – these are the 80% Rest Customers who account for 40% of revenue. But the 20% Best Customers who account for 60% revenue and perhaps more than 100% of profits need what they have not got so far – an exclusive experience that nudges them towards maximising their spend with the brand. This is where the ideas of the metaverse can come into play – with access restricted by either attention (Mu earned) or lifetime value. The experience of the µniverse becomes the next axis of differentiation – after price and convenience have been equalised.

The µniverse is the new world that beckons brands to a future where attention and profits matter more than new customer acquisition to show lossy growth. Just as human attention is finite, so is investor appetite for spending (aka paying Google and Facebook). The tide will turn, and profits once again will be in vogue. Just product, price and delivery equalisation will not be enough; marketers will need to bring in experience into the mix – especially for their most profitable customers. The time to take the steps to birthing the µniverse is now!

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 20)

Building Blocks

Attention is the key currency in today’s world. The world of digital lets brands literally track every eyeball movement for a person who is using the website or the app. And yet, no business measures and incentivises attention. While many offer rewards for transactions, the triad of attention-action-engagement that precedes a transaction is largely ignored. As such, all that brands are left with is looking at spends and running loyalty programs to offer points. Imagine if attention could be rewarded – with the prize being an entry into the metaverse for unique, differentiated experiences. I call the attention currency as Mu (µ), and the metaverse, appropriately enough, as the µniverse. Let’s play out this vision.

In the pre-digital world, transactions were the only element of the consumer lifecycle that could be tracked. That’s how loyalty programs emerged – to collect data at an individual level and thus get better insights into customer behaviour. In the digital world, this has continued. But when interaction is via a keyboard, mouse, or touch, it now becomes possible to track everything upstream of the transaction: attention, action and engagement. The more time someone spends on Site/App A means that the time is not being spent on Site/App B – attention is a zero-sum game. Since attention can now be tracked right from opens and clicks on emails to actions taken on SMSes and push notifications, it now becomes possible to create a rewards program for attention. This is the idea behind Mu. [See: Imagining Mus: An Attention-Action Currency.] Mu is the first building block for the µniverse.

Push messages are today sent to inboxes that end customers have: Gmail, SMS, or increasingly, WhatsApp. In the Gmail inbox, Google’s algorithms decide which folder the emails land in. Incoming marketing emails also have to compete with various personal emails. Just like P2P messaging has largely moved from the SMS inbox to WhatsApp, there is a need for a new inbox – the micronbox – dedicated for marketing emails. [See: Micronbox: A New Inbox.] The micronbox, our second building block, is a repository of microns – brand push messages with reward (Mu). Since all messages in this are only based on customer opt-in, this is a spam-free repository. At the most basic level, it can do for emails what Microsoft’s SMS Organizer does for SMSes. Over time, the micronbox can evolve from an inbox into an app, a portal to the µniverse.

The µniverse is the third and most ambitious building block for the metaverse. It is where brands and customers can have intimate experiences, where customers can participate in communities, where communities can drive co-creation with brand managers. The µniverse is an exclusive space – reserved for a brand’s Best Customers, accessed via attention as measured by Mu or based on customer lifetime value as determined by the brand. It is thus the ultimate Velvet Rope Marketing prize. [See: Best Customers and Velvet Rope Marketing.]

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 19)

Engagement to Experience

Websites and apps track our every action. Can they use this knowledge to make us better? I am writing this on Microsoft Word on a desktop. The app has seen me write tens of thousands of words, and other than some spelling and grammar suggestions, little has changed in the basic writing process. What would a metaverse-enabled Word look like? For one, it could create a digital twin for me based on all the writing I have done, and find me articles and references that keep me updated on topics I have written about. It could organise all my docs in a 3D cabinet, showing me connections between topics and docs. It could show me what I was thinking a year ago! It could encourage me to join a writing community. Or in this case, offer to connect me to others thinking about the metaverse. Each of this can perhaps be done today, with some friction, by separate apps or utilities. The point is: how can a more seamless experience be constructed with the data that our computers and mobiles already have on us?

Imagine time travel – but in the past. I would love to sit through a video of James Buchanan teaching public choice or Hayek talking about liberty – along with others who are learners like me. A few of us could get together virtually and create a small working group to explore some themes further. And as we are engaged, imagine running into today’s experts who could enlighten us – exactly what would happen at a conference we would have physically attended. Imagine next leaving a software agent in the metaverse that would alert us for interesting new ideas and conversations. As I said earlier, independent tools do make all this possible but there are a number of hurdles and therefore we don’t do it.

The uniting theme across these futuristic scenarios is “experience.” Customer engagement is all about customer experience. And yet most businesses have done little – other than faster delivery, lower prices and better recos. Improvements in logistics and AI will make these improvements par for the course for most brands. What’s beyond that? This is the opportunity that the metaverse brings: a way to differentiate based on experience. A few rupees difference in the product may not make us switch, but a truly unique experience could, especially for the brand’s most valuable customers.

Let’s take the example of news media; worldwide, it is facing survival challenges because of the onslaught from various alternatives. Consider Mint or Business Standard. They have excellent reporting and commentary. The print edition doesn’t tell them what I am reading and ignoring; but their digital properties gives them a deep insight into my interests – they can in fact create a replica of me and create a “Daily Me” personalised version. What else can they do for a core audience to generate additional revenues by giving unique experiences? Imagine creating a space where readers can interact with editors in exclusive events, a 3D view of news letting me see connections and context better, and coordinating interactions with others like me who can bring their expertise on specific topics. The metaverse can also offer news organisations the ability to curate 1:1 engagements between business leaders to explore new opportunities. News may have become commoditised, but experiences will never be. What business leaders need is imagination and a willingness for experimentation.

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 18)

I, Digital

Charles Kettering said, “Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future.” It is in that vein that I will imagine how the metaverse could help redefine the relationship between businesses and their customers. What follows is my vision and is thus also constrained by my limited understanding. Hopefully, this will spark ideas in readers and move us further along to constructing the metaverse. It also builds on many of my previous writings about marketing. As an entrepreneur, one has to envision the future first, and then go and build it. Even if that construct is flawed and fails, it helps move the world forward. Eventually, only a handful of ideas succeed but the innovations – including the ones that do not succeed in the market – help make the world a better place.

The pre-digital world of goods and services did not lend itself easily to 1:1 relationships between brands and customers. The digital revolution starting with the Internet and spurred along by the smartphone has given every customer a digital identity (either a mobile number or an email address or both). Being able to uniquely and consistently identify each person is the starting point for constructing a 1:1 relationship. The website login or the app download enabled businesses to identify each customer and thus begin offering distinctive views of their offerings to customers. This is the world we inhabit right now. We see some personalisation based on both our individual interactions with the business augmented by that of others (collaborative recommendations). This is also a step forward from showing the same thing to everyone – as is evidenced by our feeling of delight when Amazon and Netflix recommend just the right product or movie to watch. The current interfaces are still largely 2D and haven’t changed much in the past 25 years even as the size of the screen we engage in has become smaller for most of us, shifting from the desktop to the mobile.

Meanwhile, the richness of gaming interfaces has been growing by leaps and bounds. As an intern in the mid-1980s, I remember getting fascinated by “Digger”. Compare that to the richly crafted and deeply immersive worlds that we now see in games – not just on consoles hooked up to large TVs  but also on smartphone screens.

Imagine now if the gaming engines could be used to construct business and commerce websites and apps. I can, in my mind’s eye, construct the experience of walking down infinite aisles of books on Amazon – much like I do at New York’s Strand Book Shop, stopping every so often, pickup up a book, and looking inside. Next imagine if, like in the AR games, I could see avatars of others. Maybe I will meet a friend and we could chat about the books we are reading. Or, I could just pick a book and go sit on a virtual sofa – like I actually do in Kitab Khana. Sitting in my room in Mumbai, I could attend an author’s book reading session anywhere in the world, and even perhaps ask some questions and join the discussion. I could also find others who bought the same book recently and chat with them. Would a ‘book metaverse’ not be fascinating? The discrete technologies are all there – they need to be put together.

Amazon knows who is buying books and what they are reading on the Kindle, but it does not know our social network – which is locked up today on Facebook or our phone contacts. WhatsApp can decipher who we engage with more than others – so it knows who we are close to. These connections are what the metaverse can enable, along with creating nice spaces for us to interact without leaving our home. The book buying and reading experience becomes a shared experience that can enhance our learning and friendships.

These are still very simplistic starting points, but they help paint a picture of what is possible. The pandemic has made us all more digital in everything from conversation to commerce. The metaverse is simply the next upgrade to our digital existence.

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 17)

Beyond the Sale

At some future point of time, the pendulum will shift from growth-at-all-costs to profits. It is profits that create the free cash that translates into valuation (or market cap). Capital will turn scarce and every company will need to shift focus to monetising their existing customer base. It is then that attention will become front and centre; without attention, there is no engagement and transaction, and without a sale, there is no revenue and profit.

We are not there yet, and probably not even close. Case in point: Zomato’s sales and valuation. As Vivek Kaul explained after Zomato’s listing and first results as a public company: “The revenue from operations of the company for the period April to June 2021 amounted to Rs 844 crore. The total expenditure was at Rs 1260 crore. To put it in another way, for every Rs 100 that Zomato earned, it spent Rs 149. If we look at the same metric for the period January to March 2021, the company had spent Rs 128 for every Rs 100 that it earned. For the period April 2020 to March 2021, the company had spent Rs 131 for every Rs 100 that it earned. Clearly, the expenditure that the company has incurred for every rupee that it earned during April to June 2021, was higher than it was in the past.” For now, discounts are the transaction drivers. But it will not always be so.

When the shift happens, the digital customer’s attention will matter. Attention is upstream of everything: engagement, monetisation, cross-sell and retention. It is attention, more than loyalty programs, which can unlock profits. And it is attention which holds the key to the B2C metaverse. It is the space beyond where brands can create amazing and memorable experiences. Two businesses can be selling the same product at the same price (or with the same discount) but can offer very different metaverse experiences. This is what will drive attention and eventually the sale and persistent relationship. There will be little to distinguish the brands in the physical world, but a lot that can differentiate their relationship with customers in the metaverse. As such, the metaverse will emerge as the new frontier for B2C innovation and building lasting customer relationships.

We have seen a glimpse of it on the websites and apps of businesses via personalised recommendations. But there is little else which differentiates a first-time user’s experience as compared to a loyal customer’s. This is where brands need to start thinking differently. In an acquisition-only growth-focused world, only the first transaction matters. In a retention-centric profits-focused world, repeat transactions matter more because they are the only way to create lasting surplus cashflows.

Every business needs to think digital. For B2C businesses, experience differentiation is critical – not just better than competition, but also for their Best Customers as compared to the Rest. The metaverse can be the enabler of digital experiences, the link between attention and a profits flywheel. Welcome to the µniverse (pronounced ‘mu-niverse’).

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 16)

Two Challenges

For B2C businesses, the physical world has been about availability: mental availability (branding) and physical availability (distribution). They did not know each of us; we were just an aggregate whole. They piggybacked on mass media to create awareness and surface our latent needs. And then they had to ensure the product was available easily at a store near us.

Starting in 1995, the Internet has transformed the world. In recent times, consumer attention has become even more fragmented with mass media consumption giving way to many newer platforms – from YouTube to Facebook, from Instagram to Tiktok, from marketplaces like Amazon to streaming services like Netflix, and even gaming platforms. The pandemic has accelerated trends by many years. Each of us has adopted more digital tools and technologies to change how we work, shop and entertain ourselves; it almost feels like we are an avatar in a new world. The “Me” we each knew in March 2020 is so very different from present day Me – even time is a blur with each day a copy-paste of the previous, the small daily changes in behaviour have created a new persona for each of us who spends time and money differently.

In this new world, the scarce resource is our attention. We have so many more options to direct our attention now – play a game, buy a stock, order an ice-cream, watch a video, check the social stream, scan the news feed, send a message, take in a movie. In our past, we would have to take time and effort to do each of these activities. Now, we could be doing these activities all at the same time – right from the comfort of our chair, sofa or bed! (And for some of us, it could be happening even as we are in a work Zoom meeting.) Our “attention recession” is the single biggest challenge brands have to face in the digital world.

The second business challenge is the dilemma between growth and profits. While risk capital has been available for many centuries, the availability was limited to a few businesses. As such, most businesses had to make profits if they had to invest in growth. What has changed in recent times is the easy availability of capital – it is almost as if it is getting created out of thin air first by governments, then in the stock markets, and finally by the exponentially increasing valuations of companies. The digital acceleration has created a land grab moment – the focus is not on profits from existing customers but acquisition of new customers at all costs. Growth trumps profits as if there is no tomorrow. In such a world, companies which focus on profits today to reinvest for tomorrow’s growth are disadvantaged as plentiful and cheap capital is flowing to startups who are rewarded for today’s growth. For such adventurous enterprises, faster growth attracts even more capital from eager investors and pushes profits out even more in the future.

It is against this backdrop of attention recession and the growth-vs-profits conundrum that B2C brands need to start thinking about the customer of the future and the metaverse.

Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse (Part 15)

Commerce Next

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.