Web3 is already beginning to revolutionize the retail industry. Here’s how it can be leveraged to engage customers through ‘meta-channel’ experiences, writes Frog executive Liron Reznik.
What comes after omnichannel retail? As Web3-related technologies such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) gain traction, we could enter the era of meta-channel retail.
Some brands are already designing stores that bridge the gap between the physical and the virtual and turn the traditional idea of a store on its head. Nike, for example, has attracted millions of visitors to its virtual shopping experience in an online gaming and commerce platform, and complemented it with a hybrid experience (combining physical and virtual elements) in one of its main retail stores.
How can retailers blend virtual and physical experiences to go beyond omnichannel in ways that delight customers and employees? Thinking carefully about design and implementing a human-centered approach are two key first steps.
Where is retail now and where is it going
The evolution of omnichannel retail has been about much more than the ability to shop across platforms. Brands and retailers have become part of their customers’ online and real-life communities, through social engagement, customer forums and feedback, and growing commitments to sustainability and other values.
Today, Web3 technologies are driving new ways of participating, doing business, making decisions, and redefining people’s identities through new virtual components. At the moment, technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) may seem like exciting new developments. But as these and similar experiences become more commonplace, an omnichannel program without them will be increasingly disconnected from a new world where customers expect not just online and in-person experiences, but virtual experiences as well.
Creating metachannel experiences requires designing with humans, not just technology, in mind. There are three key areas to consider during the design stage: (1) clients’ sense of identity and self, (2) their values, and (3) their desire for communities that reflect their values, where they can be themselves. .
Celebrate the authentic self of customers
Metachannel retail experiences can give customers a sense of extended identity: virtual spaces where they can try out new ways of being or explore interests that they might not be able to engage with in their physical environment. These experiences can range from relatively simple AR tools (to modify users’ digital appearance) to VR tools for creative projects with remote collaborators.
Younger consumers, in particular, are blurring the lines between physical and virtual identities. 1 in 3 Gen Zers who responded to a recent survey, for example, said that “your online identity is your most authentic self.” But it’s not just the younger generations that can benefit from experiencing the freedom of the virtual self. Some elder care communities use virtual reality to allow residents to revisit their old neighborhoods, previous travel destinations, and favorite hangouts (places they can no longer physically go) to improve their well-being.
So metachannel experience planning starts with understanding how your customers see themselves, how they would like to see themselves if real-world constraints were removed, and how you can bring those visions to life.
Align more closely with customer values
Understanding customer identity includes examining customer values and thinking about how to address them. For example, we are seeing a shift in the way consumers and businesses deal with climate change, from something radical to something that is part of everyday life. Consumers are also more interested in seeing diversity and inclusion in practice, rather than just talking about it.
Retailers can use customer values insights to build trust around climate and sustainability or diversity and equity issues by using new immersive technologies to truly demonstrate their values. A virtual reality journey through your sustainable sourcing process, for example, or virtual commerce experiences that reflect and embrace diverse identities, can help customers feel more comfortable and excited to shop with you.
Build virtual communities
Experiences that allow customers (or their avatars) to be themselves and support their values can naturally thrive in a virtual community where like-minded customers can come together to try new things, create their own virtual products, share feedback and advice to each other and help the retailers they shop with develop a deeper understanding of what they want and need.
When these virtual communities are well designed and well managed, they enhance trust and creative exchange between customer and retailer. This customer information can help retailers deliver a more compelling metachannel experience that creates a positive feedback loop for trust, innovation, and growth.
There are undoubtedly more Web3 applications on the horizon that will change the way customers and retailers interact. Regardless of how technology evolves, the keys to unlocking its value will remain the same: understand customers, identify their values, and build communities that enrich their lives and meet their needs.
Liron Reznik is Executive Director of Strategy, Director of Consumer Strategy and Director of Brand Strategy at Frog, part of Capgemini Invent.
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