How are we going to shop in the metaverse? Time will tell

Read by SA Applin 8 minutes

So, how are we going to shop in the metaverse?

We have to start by asking ourselves what we want to buy and where and how we are going to use it. When venture capitalists and Mark Zuckerberg have their way, we don goggles and wander through a colorfully rendered world with various activities. At least some of our actions will be commercially targeted to generate revenue for anonymous digital hosts. Essentially, we shop just by existing there.

Living in the metaverse is going to cost money, so shopping will be the price of admission. If we are represented by avatars interacting in a realistic 3D environment, we need digital clothes, digital houses, everything digital. We may need second digital jobs to earn digital money to pay for all these things. We will even pay digital taxes

One problem with the metaverse, as shown to us in videos from Meta and others, is that people don’t have fully rendered bodies – just the top halves. There go the non-replaceable symbolic pants and shoe sales there. Meta’s ads show people flying in colorful little planes, but where the company tells us we’re going, we don’t need planes — or the rest of our bodies. So the rendered world looks more like a replica of what we already have, but digitally. If we have to get around, what will the modes of transport be like? And more importantly, how much will they cost us?

It is likely that the metaverse will give us an option to shop in many new ways and also express status in new ways. One way we will continue to shop is from the comfort of our homes — and pyjamas. We may all be dressed in our best NFT, parading through a version of Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, all sitting alone on our benches. But will there even be a Rodeo Drive in the metaverse? Do we need streets in a synthesized world where we don’t even technically need bodies?

Outside of the metaverse, shopping in stores requires some physical mobility modality – a way to get around. Stores have to walk, roll, or just be physically in them, but even today we’re moving on to hiring people to do that for us through services like Instacart. These proxy shoppers sometimes have to go to different locations in the store and text us photos to secure the correct items for our cart. It’s like we’re there – sort of. But we’re not, nor is it clear how much “there” will be with shopping in the metaverse.

Shopping is social

Shopping is a social, cooperative activity. Whether we are physically with people (locally or remotely) or only think of them when we shop, we have social contact. We negotiate, ask for help and gather opinions. We also help others with shopping. We can pick something to hand over to a friend in a locker room, ask a salesperson a question, negotiate space when we pass someone, or chat while waiting in line to pay.

Most of that social aspect has been eroded by digital shopping, but social interaction will continue in the metaverse. We already shop in malls, high streets and box stores. We also shop on buses, planes, trains and boats, in our cars, from our desks, couches and beds, in restaurants, at sporting events, concerts, etc. These activities are social, and even when we are on our screens in public, people navigate around us, or perhaps talk to us as our attention expands and expands.

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

At the back of our purchases, shopping involves enormous amounts of human collaboration and coordination. People facilitate the procurement of raw materials used in what we buy, and process them with tools that others have forged and made. Things are made and shipped and stored and picked up and loaded and packed and reshipped. But because we can’t see all that activity, we lose sight of how much we need each other and how powerful that supply chain is — until something unravels it. When that is the case, we become aware that empty supermarket shelves, gadgets that are sold out due to a chip shortage, or one of the thousands of micro-to-macro, analog-to-digital disruptions can stop us, or put us on hold. at the very least force us to reroute, recalculate and redefine our physical and social needs in order to respond to the disturbances.

Digital shopping has given us a way to take all that social coordination for granted because it’s out of our sight. We shop with laptops, tablets, and cell phones, accessing grids and lists of merchandise in online “stores,” many of which are similar, whether we’re buying pizza sandwiches or a car. The items we buy are commodities, and the web shopping experience can also feel like a commodity. Until now, digital shopping, for example, was not tangible. We can’t see how big or small items are, judge the cut of garments, or feel the roughness of sandpaper. We can’t even assume we’re seeing accurate representations of colors.

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

Beyond the current demos

Fortunately, once it arrives, the metaverse 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 magnified layers on top of our analog world. For those of us who are still willing to move out of our homes and wear AR glasses instead of VR glasses, which cloud our vision, we have new ways of looking at what used to be tied to the physical. Location. With the help of these technologies, we will be even better able to transcend the boundaries and boundaries of the physical spaces where we shop now.

Today we can consult our phones for deals elsewhere while we are in a store. The metaverse allows us to view AR data layers across physical merchandise wherever we are, with potential access to massive data repositories, agents, and inventory. We go from mere shoppers to inventory managers, buyers, supply chain analysts and more. Retailers will also have a different relationship with us and compete to stand out from anyone else in our viewfinder and bring us something better and shinier. They will have to up their marketing game, lower their margins and court us.

Unless, of course, we need them – for status. Big brands like Gucci, Chanel and Balenciaga are already creating virtual garments so we can transfer our status and style to our new virtual selves (at least the top halves) in the VR portion of the metaverse. Twitter also allows NFT avatars in user profiles. Such differentiators will be more coveted. This is where retailers get a chance – exclusivity and personalization of digital status items for the metaverse will be another way to find status, as we are doing now.

Creating the future, pixel by pixel. Vault builds its own virtual world @TheSandboxGame† Discover more #GucciVault

— gucci (@gucci) February 9, 2022

While this aspect of the metaverse seems like a more intense and commercially interdependent version of Second Life, it’s not clear if we’ll actually “own” anything, or if we’ll be the ones owned by retailers and digital landlords when we rent and pay. to allow microtransactions to exist in a world in which we will somehow have to inhabit more and more.

Our activities will likely feed a huge file of our habits as we shop – and live – in the metaverse.

This kind of digital shopping could continue over the web, eventually transforming current e-commerce websites into VR simulations of stores, as some retailers are already doing. These VR stores could exist in designed “landscapes” that are synthetic and computer generated, based on Second Life or Minecraft. But will VR retail environments in the metaverse appeal to us — or even seem necessary? We don’t need to eat, so we won’t be able to get a Cinnabon in the metaverse while we shop, at least not one that we can actually eat. Will we be good without a food court? Or does some Instacart driver deliver a Cinnabon home while we stand at the Cinnabon counter in the metaverse in our NFT Gucci coats?

Some aspects of shopping in the metaverse can be alarming. When we move to a virtual environment or to a digital always-on layer on top of the Commons, we start living in a blended reality. Walking the Commons in AR glasses while trying to shop will divide our attention and distract us – and if others do the same at the same time, it can cause accidents if people collide. In addition, our trading activities will likely feed a massive file of our habits as we shop – and live – in the metaverse. When all of our metaverse shopping actions are mediated, 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 proposed, and that gives us some room to plan our strategies. People are creative and often express themselves and try to solve problems in unexpected ways. One option is to not participate in Meta’s shopping metaverse for as long as possible. While shopping metavers can redefine the social fabric we have and make it harder to connect with each other, we still have the opportunity to work with real merchants in brick-and-mortar locations — at least for now, or until we get fashionable digital clothing. to cover our avatar torsos.

S.A. Applin, PhD, is an anthropologist whose research explores the domains of human action, algorithms, AI and automation in the context of social systems and sociability. You can find more at@antropunk and

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