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Why Brands and Retailers Must Tread Carefully With ‘the Metaverse’

A latest digital survey-based research uncovered some surprising insights into attitudes towards online versus in-real-life experiences in the metaverse ecosystem. 

Across the globe, much of our lives have transitioned into digital or virtual realms – giving rise to the latest buzzword, the so-called ‘the Metaverse’; whereby multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality and video, are combining in increasingly sophisticated ways

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The term is now being used to encompass seismic shifts in how we interact with technology – whether via virtual worlds such as Roblox and Fortnite, in our use of avatars, or through sampling and buying goods online. Certainly, during the pandemic, nearly all of our daily activities shifted to the virtual realm – from social gatherings to meetings with colleagues, and from grocery shopping to medical appointments, as well as nearly everything else in between. In short, today we’re online, almost all of the time.

So, we used its market research sample exchange – the world’s largest, with 145 million respondents across 130 countries – to ask a broad section of consumers in the U.S., U.K., and India how they really feel about online versus ‘in real life’ activities, what they want from brands, and how this differs by generation, and by country.

Exploring a cross-section of nationally representative consumers in the U.K., the U.S. and India, the study uncovered some fascinating insights, including the fact that expectations of our virtual worlds are spilling over into ‘real life’ feelings and frustrations, with some of the youngest generations – those often assumed to be most open to digital experiences – experiencing the highest levels of fatigue around our increasingly online existence.

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Indeed, Gen Z reported being more negatively affected by constant digital activity than older generations. Our study revealed that this cohort also dislikes social video calls more than any other generation. In fact, in the U.K., around a third, 32%, of Gen Z feel fatigued by social video calls, while, in the U.S., almost three in ten, or 29%, of Millennials also feel this way.

Counter to assumptions that younger generations are connected 24/7 – and actually enjoy it – Gen Z was also found to be more likely to prefer having their video turned off while participating in video calls. The assumption that the Metaverse is where our youngest generations feel most comfortable needs to be re-examined. More data on these levels of digital fatigue can be found here: Convenience versus fatigue in a digital world.

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Over half of Indian consumers are experiencing online fatigue. In fact, a huge increase in video and virtual activities in this market is having a particularly negative impact on some, with over half of respondents claiming that they are participating in video calls for work or school ‘too much’. This is especially true among Gen X in India; a cohort in which almost three in five reported of having experienced fatigue as a result of work video calls.

That said, a whopping 93% of Indian consumers also said they will maintain increased online shopping habits. Clearly, brands and retailers must ensure that e-commerce functionality remains optimized. What’s more, when it comes to in-store visits, top of the wish list for consumers in this market is one-day shipping and free delivery – with these consumers most keen to see a variety of technologies in store such as augmented reality and services that help you search for items, as part of a blended, omnichannel offer. Overwhelmingly, consumers, globally, are also seeking shorter queues or waiting times – and increased social distancing. In India, for instance, over half want increased social distancing – something which can sometimes be hard to achieve in real life.

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Global Business Requires Global Research on the Metaverse

With findings from the study highlighting the fact that increasing expectations around our online experiences – inside the Metaverse! –  are likely to translate into new demands from in-person activities, too, it’s important that retailers and brands consider the nuances of the markets they operate in, and the demographics they cater for – and respond accordingly.

For instance, when it comes to shopping, Gen Z and Millennials, in particular, are looking for features that allow for convenient yet interactive shopping experiences.

They would like to see in-store options for one-day shipping, as well as enhanced experiences through technologies such as augmented reality. Meanwhile, older consumers – especially Boomers – would like fewer queues, with social distancing a key concern for many.

Clearly, a nuanced approach is needed when it comes to reaching target audiences inside the digital universe. Brands cannot afford to make assumptions – with some behaviors and preferences starkly different amongst particular generations and geographies. 

What is certain with the metaverse, however, is that many of the habits formed during the pandemic are here to stay. We have emerged into a new world in which brands must ensure their offers match rapidly changing consumer desires for both online and ‘in real life’ experiences. With no single cohort uniform in its reactions and feelings surrounding current events and the online activities increasingly taking over our lives, one thing is clear: Brands must consider how they want to approach the Metaverse carefully before they jump right in.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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