Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

Retail finds second life online

The retail Metaverse is prompting growing digital demands for product information, says James Barlow, Regional Director UK&I at Akeneo.

When parallel technology developments start to overlap, amazing new opportunities emerge for retailers and brands that are seeking to bring their customers closer to the action.

In the normal world, when something doesn’t exist but we tell everyone it’s awesome, that’s called hype. However, in the case of the metaverse, the excitement is more than justified. While it indeed does not exist in the sense that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg means, virtual worlds and immersive digital games have been around for many years.  At the same time, retailers and brands have been trying for some years to make the online experience less transactional and more involving, using virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) to enhance their products and place them in a live context that puts the customer at the heart of the experience.

The consumer is on board in a big way. Original research of over 1,800 shoppers by Akeneo in its 2022 B2C Survey: Product Experience Satisfaction Around the World’ report, found that 42% of UK consumers now want to use AR and the metaverse to find product information in their buying journeys.

The fact that consumers have effectively conflated AR and the metaverse shows that, whatever words are used, the strong desire is the same – to make digital shopping more like real life.

The research also reveals that a third of UK consumers want to be able to use voice commerce technology to find out more about the goods and services they are looking to buy, while 37% would be open to using chatbots in the future as part of product discovery in their paths to purchase.  This demonstrates clearly that anything that gets consumers closer and make it easier and more rewarding for them gets their vote. And this is perhaps why the store remains relevant; 72% of those polled say they use multiple sources and channels when researching a product and deciding what to buy, and a further 81% have started a product search in-store and have gone on to buy it online.

What this desire points to is the need for much greater volumes of information online but also a much broader variety of information types. This is both an opportunity and a threat – a threat to those retailers and brands unable to create and quickly surface product information within rich media. Insufficient product information not only leads to lost sales and abandoned purchases but also risks brand loyalty being diminished.  Six in ten (62%) said they would abandon a purchase due to poor product information, while two thirds (65%) would stop buying from a brand altogether due to poor product details, saying they would lose trust with that retailer. 

However, it is an opportunity for those businesses that understand the solution. First of all, as the way consumers shop changes rapidly, and it’s essential to understand how and where they are engaging with products. In addition, it is important to understand what their expectations are for the brand. The designed product experience for each channel must first be consistent and second be continued through all the points where consumers will be making their purchases and returns, be they digital or physical.

Fixing the problem depends on both technology and creativity. In technology terms, integrated tools and platforms are needed that bring teams together, foster collaboration, evaluate data quality and suggest improvements to enrich product information, and enable marketers, ecommerce teams and product owners to ensure that the digital assets associated with a product are not only the right ones but also as compelling as possible.

The need to set products in context has already set off a surge in creativity from ecommerce, not just placing products in digital worlds that replicate real environments, but fantasy ones as well which emphasise the aspirational elements that are important to promoting high value and luxury brands. These immersive contexts are also important in building trust and emotional connection with consumers because they are now taking part rather than simply observing.

The journey to the metaverse of course starts with the basics and retailers might be punished if they don’t get their own involvement right. It may start with fixing a problem as simple as the current product catalogue which may not be complete, mandatory fields are not filled in or images do not match the items. In the metaverse, there will be more pressure to show products off to their best advantage and mistakes will be much more visible than in the traditional digital catalogue world.

Ultimately, one of the great joys of retail in the metaverse is the fact that retailers will no longer have to second guess what type of experience each customer wants – slow and immersive or quick and convenient. The customer will be in the driving seat, in control of their experiences and managing their own journeys. The metaverse is not technically here yet, but when it comes to consumer desire, it most definitely is.

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