Beyond the hype

Explore five ways retailers and brands can drive value in the enterprise metaverse.

The enterprise metaverse is a “now” opportunity—a time to build the foundation for a purposeful future that spans the digital-physical divide by creating tangible, measurable, and sustainable business results today.

As the consumer metaverse progresses through the hype cycle, retailers and brands must address the opportunities to leverage key metaverse themes—immersion, decentralization, virtual economy, and community—to drive value within the enterprise.

What exactly is the metaverse?

The metaverse, which until last year had largely been confined to movies and science fiction, has now become a “catch all” word for everything from virtual gaming to digital twins, and Web3 to nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

We see the metaverse as a shorthand word for the network of shared 3D experiences that blur the divide between the digital world and the physical world, characterized by a new set of values such as:

Copresence: the desire to be with others

Collaboration: the need for interaction, voice, and co-creation

Connection: the need for persistent/omnipresent experiences

Contrary to most of the press coverage, the metaverse does not just exist in a headset. It’s essentially everywhere—experienced on a phone, laptop, tablet, and in physical spaces all around us, often through a digital overlay onto the physical world.

“We’re on the cusp of a seismic shift: the biggest change to the digital landscape, and culture, since the dawn of social media in the early 2000s.”

—Emily O’Brien, Programme Director, Unilever Web3 Collective

And for brands, retailers and customers, those experiences—B2C, B2B, B2B2C, Intra-company—need to be connected to be valuable. No matter how beautiful it is, a silo is still a silo. If there’s no connection from the virtual store to the contact center, or from the digital twin to the shop floor, you’re better off not creating a metaverse experience in the first place. Interoperability is key.

Areas of opportunity for brands and retailers

We see five key areas of opportunity for retailers and brands to leverage the “metaverse promise” by merging the virtual world and the real world:

#1 New product development: The metaverse offers the chance to streamline, enhance, and accelerate the digital product development process through improved collaboration across R&D, innovation, product design, and production. Real-time 3D enables the creation of enhanced product development processes, reducing the pressure of in-person schedules and the need for physical prototyping and sampling.

#2 Manufacturing and supply chain operations: Augmented reality, virtual reality, extended reality, and mixed reality; complex simulations (also known as digital twins); and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML)-enabled services offer many potential enhancements and efficiencies to manufacturing, engineering, and supply chain processes. These technologies allow organizations to both virtually represent existing business functions (such as a production line) and to overlay new capabilities on top of physical processes.  

#3 Store and space design: Demands for store and space innovation are accelerating, as customers desire more interesting experiences and more regular “refreshes,” and retailers and brands look for ways to differentiate themselves in the physical world. In the metaverse, retailers and brands have opportunities to quickly create, visualize, and update stores, working seamlessly across teams, locations, and iterations. We see potential value at both the macro and micro level of store and space design.  

#4 Associate training, service, and support: Many retailers and brands have focused initial metaverse efforts on the consumer. We see the possibility of shorter timeframes to lasting value when organizations focus on the associates who help deliver customers’ experiences. Leading brands are turning to augmented, virtual, and mixed reality to deliver “learning moments” and onboarding programs that resonate across multiple learning styles.

#5 Enhanced customer experiences: Augmented experiences and virtual environments are expected to redefine how consumers research, browse, buy, and receive goods and services. The metaverse offers the promise of “everywhere retail,” where shopping happens both actively and passively, accessible anywhere, all the time. While this vision is not yet reality, brands and retailers can use augmented experiences, immersive experiences, and co-creation and innovation to engage, entertain, convert, and serve customers.

Download the full report to explore real-world use cases and discover how retail and consumer products executives can realize the promise of truly immersive commerce-enabled experiences.


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Additional content

Meet the authors

Jeffrey Castellano

Connect with author:

, Global Executive Design Director, IBM Consulting

Karl Haller

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, Global Leader for the IBM Consulting Consumer Center of Competency

Chris Hay

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, Distinguished Engineer, IBM

Mary Wallace

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, Retail and Consumer Behavior SME, IBM Consulting

Originally published 09 January 2023