How will we shop in the metaverse? Only time will tell

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By SA Applin 8 minutes Read

So how are we going to shop in the metaverse?

We should start by asking ourselves what we want to buy and where and how we are going to use it. If venture capitalists and Mark Zuckerberg have their way, we’ll don glasses and stroll through a colorful world engaged in various activities. At least some of our actions will be commercially oriented to generate revenue for faceless digital owners. Essentially, we’ll be shopping just by existing there.

Living in the metaverse is going to cost money, so shopping will be the cost of entry. If we want to be represented by avatars interacting in a realistic 3D environment, we will need digital clothes, digital homes, everything digital. We might need digital second jobs to earn digital money to pay for all of this. We will even pay digital taxes.

A problem with the metaverse as it was shown to us in videos from Meta and others is that people don’t have fully represented bodies—just the top halves. There’s the non-fungible token pants and shoe sales right there. Meta’s ad shows people flying around in small, colorful planes, but where the company tells us we’re going, we won’t need planes or the rest of our bodies. So the rendered world looks more like a replica of what we already have, but digital. If we have to travel, what will the modes of transportation look like? And more importantly, how much are they going to cost us?

It’s likely that the metaverse is going to give us the ability to shop in many new ways and express our status in new ways as well. One of the ways we will continue to shop is from the comfort of our homes and our pajamas. We could all be dressed in our finest NFTs, parading down a version of Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, while sitting alone on our couches. But will there even be a Rodeo Drive in the metaverse? Do we need streets in a synthesized world where we technically don’t even need bodies?

Outside of the Metaverse, shopping in stores requires some modality of physical mobility, a means of getting around. Stores require walking, driving, or just physically being there, but even today we are transitioning to hiring people to do this for us through services like Instacart. These proxy buyers sometimes have to go to different locations in the store and text us photos to secure the right items for our cart. It’s as if we were there, in a way. But we’re not, and it’s also unclear just how much purchase there will be in the Metaverse.

Shopping is social

Shopping is a social and cooperative activity. Whether we are physically with people (locally or remotely) or just think of them when we shop, we interact socially. We negotiate, ask for help and gather opinions. We also help others shop. We can choose something to hand over to a friend in a dressing room, ask a salesperson a question, negotiate space while bumping into another person, or chat while waiting in line while waiting to pay.

Most of this social aspect has been eroded by digital purchases, but the social interaction will continue in the metaverse. We already buy in malls, on high streets and in box stores. We also shop on buses, planes, trains and boats, in our cars, from our desks, sofas and beds, in restaurants, at sporting events, concerts, etc. These activities are social, and even though we seem glued to our screens in public, people browse around us, or perhaps talk with us as our attention shifts back and forth.

The Metaverse – once it arrives – probably won’t look much like the current demos.

At the end of our shopping, shopping is tied to huge amounts of human cooperation and coordination. People facilitate the sourcing of raw materials that are used in what we buy and transform them using tools that others have forged and made. Things are created and shipped and stored and picked up and loaded and packed and shipped again. But since we can’t see all of this activity, we lose sight of how much we need each other and how powerful this supply chain is, until something unravels it. When it does, we realize that empty grocery store shelves, sold out gadgets due to a shortage of chips, or one of thousands of micro-macro, analog-to-digital disruptions can shut us down, or at least requiring us to reorient, recalculate and redefine our physical and social needs to respond to disruptions.

Digital shopping has allowed us to take all of this social coordination for granted because it is out of sight. We buy using laptops, tablets and mobile phones, accessing grids and lists of goods on online ‘stores’, many of which look alike, whether we’re buying pizza or a car. . The items we buy are commodities, and the web shopping experience can also feel commoditized. For example, to date, digital purchases have not been touch-enabled. We can’t tell how big or small the items are, judge the fit of the garments, or feel the roughness of the sandpaper. We can’t even assume that we see accurate representations of colors.

Video clips and rotating 3D models on shopping sites can help us understand the items we’re considering buying, but there’s still no tactile feedback. This is something that metaverse technology could solve through augmented or virtual reality with haptic feedback, giving digital shopping a tactile dimensionality that has been missing until now.

Beyond Current Demos

Luckily, the Metaverse – once it arrives – probably won’t look much like the current demos. Instead, it will mix rendered and analog environments, with variations between full immersion in synthetic worlds and augmented layers on top of our analog world. For those of us who are always ready to get out of the house and wear AR glasses instead of VR glasses, which obscure our vision, we will have new ways of seeing what was previously tied to physical location. By using these technologies, we will be even more able to transcend the boundaries and limitations of the physical spaces where we currently shop.

Today, we can check our phones for deals elsewhere while we’re at any retail establishment. With the metaverse, we will be able to view AR data layers on physical goods wherever we are, with potential access to huge data repositories, agents and inventories. We will go from simple buyers to inventory managers, purchasing agents, supply chain analysts, etc. Retailers will also have a different relationship with us, competing to differentiate themselves from anyone who might appear in our sights and offer us something better and shinier. They’re going to have to improve their marketing, cut their margins and woo us.

Unless, of course, we need them – for status. Already, major brands such as Gucci, Chanel and Balenciaga are creating virtual clothes so that we can wear our status and style to our virtual new selves (at least the upper halves) in the VR part of the metaverse. Twitter is also enabling NFT avatars in user profiles. Such differentiators will become more coveted. This is where retailers will have a chance – exclusivity and customization of digital status items for the metaverse will be another way to find status, as we do now.

While this aspect of the Metaverse might seem like a more intense, commercially intertwined version of second lifeit’s unclear if we’ll really “own” anything, or if we’ll be owned by retailers and digital owners as we rent and pay for microtransactions to exist in a world where we’ll be increasingly forced to live one way or another.

Our activities will likely create fodder for a giant folder of our habits as we shop – and live – in the metaverse.

This type of digital shopping could continue via the web, eventually transforming today’s e-commerce websites into VR simulations of stores, as some retailers are already doing. These VR stores could exist in designed “landscapes” that are man-made and computer-generated, taking inspiration from second life Where Minecraft. But will VR shopping environments in the metaverse appeal to us, or even seem necessary? We won’t need to eat, so we won’t be able to get any Cinnabon in the metaverse while we shop, at least not one we could actually eat. Are we okay without a food court? Or will an Instacart driver deliver a Cinnabon to us at home while we’re at the Cinnabon counter in the metaverse in our NFT Gucci jackets?

Some aspects of shopping in the metaverse could be alarming. If we move to a virtual environment or a permanent digital layer on top of Commons, we will be living in mixed reality. Walking around the Commons with AR glasses while trying to shop divide our attention and distract us– and if others do the same at the same time, it could create accidents when people collide. Additionally, our business activities will likely create fodder for a giant folder of our habits as we shop – and live – in the metaverse. When all of our metaverse buying actions are publicized, they can be analyzed and assumptions can be made about us.

But shopping in the metaverse probably won’t work the way it’s currently envisioned, and that gives us some leeway to plan our strategies. People are creative and often express themselves and try to solve problems in unexpected ways. One option will be to simply opt out of Meta’s metaverse to shop for as long as possible. Although metaverse shopping may seem to redefine the social fabric we have and make it harder to connect with each other, we still have the option of working with real sellers in physical locations, at least for now, or until until we get fashionable digital clothes. to cover our avatar torsos.


SA Applin, PhD, is an anthropologist whose research explores the areas of human agency, algorithms, AI and automation in the context of social systems and sociability. You can find more at@anthroppunk and PoSR.org.

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