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How web3 can transform omnichannel into ‘metachannel’

By Liron Reznik | Executive strategy director, head of consumer and brand strategy

October 27, 2022 | 7 min read

Web3 is already beginning to revolutionize the retail industry. Here’s how it can be leveraged to engage customers through ‘metachannel’ experiences, writes Frog exec Liron Reznik.

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Could virtual reality be the future of retail?

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 age of metachannel retail.

Some brands are already designing stores that bridge the physical-virtual divide and upend the traditional idea of a store. Nike, for example, has drawn millions of visitors to its virtual shopping experience on an online gaming and commerce platform, and complemented that with a hybrid experience (blending physical and virtual elements) in one of its major retail locations.

How can retailers blend virtual and physical experiences to move beyond omnichannel in ways that satisfy customers and employees? Thinking carefully about design and implementing a human-centric approach are two key first steps.

Where retail is now, and where it’s headed

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 engaging, doing business, making decisions and redefining people’s identities via new virtual components. For the moment, technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) may feel like exciting novelties. But as these and similar experiences become more common, an omnichannel program without them will be increasingly disconnected from a new world where customers expect not just online and in-person experiences, but also virtual experiences.

Building metachannel experiences requires designing with human beings – not just technology – in mind. There are three key areas to consider during the design stage: (1) customers’ sense of self and identity, (2) their values and (3) their desire for communities that reflect their values, where they can be their authentic selves.

Celebrate customers’ authentic selves

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 they may not be able to engage with in their physical surroundings. These experiences can range from relatively simple AR tools (to modify users’ digital appearance) to VR tools for creative projects with far-flung collaborators.

Younger consumers in particular are blurring the boundaries between physical and virtual identities. One in three gen Zers responding to a recent survey, for example, said that “their online identity is their most authentic self.” But it’s not just younger generations that can benefit from experiencing the freedom of the virtual self. Some senior care communities use VR to allow residents to revisit their old neighborhoods, previous travel destinations and favorite hangout spots – places they can no longer physically go to – to improve their wellbeing.

So metachannel experience planning starts with understanding how your customers see themselves, how they would like to see themselves if real-world limitations were lifted, and how you can bring those visions into reality.

Align more closely with customers’ values

Understanding customer identity includes examining customers’ values and thinking about how you can address them. For example, we’re seeing a shift in the way consumers and companies address climate change, from something radical to something that’s part of daily life. Consumers are also more interested in seeing diversity and inclusion put into practice, not simply talked about.

Retailers can use customer-values insights to build trust around climate and sustainability or diversity and equity issues by using new immersive technologies to actually demonstrate their values. A VR journey through your sustainable sourcing process, for example, or virtual commerce experiences that reflect and welcome diverse identities, can help customers feel more comfortable with and excited about shopping with you.

Build virtual communities

Experiences that let customers (or their avatars) be themselves and that support their values can progress naturally into a virtual community where like-minded customers can gather to try new things, create their own virtual products, share feedback and tips with 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 the trust and creative exchange between customer and retailer. This customer input can help retailers deliver a more compelling metachannel experience that creates a positive feedback loop for trust, innovation and growth.

No doubt there are more web3 applications on the horizon that will change the way customers and retailers interact. Regardless of how the technology evolves, the keys to unlocking its value will remain the same: understand the customers, identify their values and build communities that enrich their lives and meet their needs.

Liron Reznik is executive strategy director, head of consumer strategy and head of brand strategy at Frog, part of Capgemini Invent.

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