The internet is awash with rumours of its inevitable, future demise. Talk of the Metaverse and what it means, Web3 whispers of what our world may or may not look like on the other side of this foggy, digital periphery. We get it, it’s everywhere. But talk is cheap. And the Metaverse, well, it can be mystifying. We’re not here to debunk it - sorry - but we are here to bring you our take on the six very important things you should consider before creating a blended retail experience in the era of the Metaverse. All through the very human lens of design.
Because whether you're ready to swap this world for the virtual, or want your feet firmly on earthy terrain, the dawn of the Meta-era is well and truly upon us. But when the future looks a little pixelated around the edges, the store, a space of comforting familiarity, is the ideal playground to democratise this new reality. By introducing glimpses into the next iteration of our digital future in manageable byte-size chunks, the store can become a portal to this brave new world, forming a welcomed steppingstone over digitally molten, foreign terrain. It’s a gold mine worth its weight in tapping into.
So without further ado, these are the six absolute non-negotiable considerations for crafting the ultimate blended retail experience.
1. Carve out your niche
Your choice of where, and how you choose to show up, needs to be cognisant of your brand, of your customers and the nuances of their lifestyle, as well as the future vision of where your brand is heading.
Delivering food with a side of technical pizazz to educate those sceptical about the Web3 community, NFT-startup-turned-streetwear-brand Bored Ape Yacht Club found their niche in the fast-food pop-up Bored & Hungry in Long Beach, California. It’s a first-of-its-kind concept, accepting both Ethereum and ApeCoin (the currency of the BAYC ecosystem) as a form of payment, that has a natural synergy to the transitory nature of streetwear culture - with an added helping of unlockable fast-food perks.
Brainchild of Andy Nguyen, he explained: “The goal is to give back to the growing Web 3.0 community and open the doors to those who want to learn more about this new Web 3/NFT world…And show people that you can create a brand/business out of this IP. Taking away the stigma of, ‘It’s just a jpeg.’”
The new brand expression shows the possibilities of translating Web3 culture into IRL relevance, as it crosses the threshold between real and unreal. It offers a fresh new take on crypto, that got heads turning and crowds queuing. Find your niche, carve out a space that’s exclusively yours, and own it.
2. Make it make sense
It’s no secret that a fully immersive new world is still a mere glint in the eye of those building it. Decentraland’s first Metaverse Fashion Week that took place in April saw a clash of futuristic ideas with underwhelming graphics stuck jarringly in the 90s thanks to the platform’s limitations. It’s safe to say virtual worlds aren’t setting our hearts on fire just yet. Don’t get me wrong, play is of the essence, but is a pixelated world on Roblox the right decision for your audience? It needs to make sense, and this all comes down to the value it’s bringing to your customers lives.
Hinge everything off this, it is your north star, your raison d’etre and your raft in a sea of constantly changing parts. If the value lies in introducing your audience to NFTs and demystifying their purchase, how can the comfort of familiar spaces serve to facilitate the unfamiliar?
Positioning themselves as a future Web3 authority, Selfridges’ Corner Shop launched an NFT pop-up earlier this year and mastered a broad stroke appeal, to woo both the crypto-curious as well as the crypto-confused. The project normalised buying NFTs as candidly as if it were bag or pair of shoes - done so with the stylish allure of vintage haute-couture and multi-coloured artwork from Paco Rabanne and artist Victor Vasarely, respectively. Unlike BAYC, there was no crypto to muddy the waters - your regular VISA card was all you needed to be able to buy an NFT – a smart decision for a world still grappling with the arrival of these new phenomenons.
3. Blend it, blend it real good
Verb (used with object), blend·ed or (Literary) blent, blend·ing.
to mix smoothly and inseparably together:
to blend the ingredients in a recipe.
By definition, a blended experience should create a space so seamlessly mixed together that your components become inseparable. In the era of the Metaverse, this has never been more true, allowing customers to move fluidly between parallel worlds, where each space is as meaningful as the other. In-store this could be a socially-charged experience, rewarding social interaction through new means of currency, or a digital scavenger hunt occupying space in the virtual, leading customers to physical places with the seduction of hidden prizes.
Extending its physical brand universe into the virtual world of Roblox last year, Nike brought the Metaverse in-store at their NYC House of Innovation in January, turning the kid’s area into a virtual-first playground with AR-enabled games and avatars. By seamlessly blending their digital and physical worlds in store, they were able to dissolve the barriers of the physical store, expanding it into new realities to appeal to a younger audience’s penchant for playful escapism.
4. Reap the right rewards
The game has changed; we’re dealing with a wealth of new currencies, travelling to unexplored new terrain, and having to decode a new digital language. With the arrival of the Metaverse, things just got a little more playful, and being rewarding for brand interaction in these newly established currencies is now the expectation.
Virtual goods, from in-game clothing, to NFT artworks, are swelling in worth - every year a small $54 billion is spent on digital goods, bringing with it the hype of digital scarcity. But before jumping on the bandwagon, ask yourself, where do my customers see more worth? An in-game reward in the form of a virtual product might make perfect sense as the currency to continue air-time engagement, but one that exists in the real world might be imbued with greater value, neatly bridging the space between the two worlds. Meanwhile, IRL products with corresponding digital doubles, allowing customers to experience the product in multi-dimensional ways, can create an all-important evergreen digital connection to the consumer.
5. Is it out of this world?
Because it needs to be. Yes, it needs to be blended, but any extension of your bricks and mortar should never be a mere replication of an experience or product that already exists in the real world. It should facilitate adventure and offer a departure from reality into exciting, new spaces. In its nascency, there’s a malleability to the Metaverse that means the normal rules don’t apply – free of the physical boundaries on Earth, there, the possibilities are as infinite as you make them.
By blending your newly-built realm in the ether with the bricks of your physical environment, you’re able to inject make-believe into the mundane everyday. From there, there’s a whole world of data just waiting to be tapped into, helping you to identify where people dwell, what they engage with, and how they navigate. Use your blended experience as the ultimate innovation space and a lesson in being more Beta.
6. Be one step ahead of the rest
And finally, does the experience take you into a future iteration of your brand, or does it merely position you alongside everyone else doing the same old thing? If brands can begin to establish their long-term strategy now, it will give them a commercial tenacity immune to fleeting trends, ensuring they’re in it for the long game.
Our world, as we know it, has been extended by this new expanse of digital land, and the limitless possibilities it brings with it. As we attempt to decipher its novelty, the brands that offer a decoding of the Web3 era will be viewed favourably - but playing it safe is not an option. Bold brand expressions that activate the imaginary, and enrich the real, will win amidst the increasingly frenzied competition.
But when defining your Metaverse strategy, before you get whisked off into the pixels of alternate dimensions, bring it back down to Earth just a little and consider how your store could make the journey even more thrilling.