Retail’s Going Metaverse Crazy, but 85 Percent of Gen Z ‘Indifferent’ About Brands’ Virtual Presence, Study Finds

Retail may be going gaga for gaming and all things metaverse for the moment, but if the incoming consumer target group — and easily the most tech-savvy generation — isn’t quite fazed by the frenzy, what gives?

While the metaverse is decidedly new to the mainstream conversation and this 3D interactive internet is still very much under construction, most brands and retailers are, reasonably, trying to get in on what a March study from Citi GPS says could be an $8 trillion to $13 trillion opportunity come 2030.

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“Retailers see so much potential in [the] metaverse because it can really augment their persona in a really interesting way,” Zipline cofounder and chief executive officer Melissa Wong, told WWD. “What we saw from the data is that even though there’s an awareness, a lot of people don’t really understand it. A lot of people across generations say that gaming is the main reason for participating, so there’s an evolution of what the metaverse will mean for people and especially in relation to retail.”

As with many things in fashion, while the race is on to be first, next or most-favored, it may be worth more closely examining the nuances of demand for these virtual realities before doling out offerings that could end up falling flat.

Especially when, according to a new study out Thursday from operations platform Zipline, 85 percent of Gen Z respondents said they feel “indifferent” about brands having a presence in the metaverse.

Further, 80 percent of Gen Z said they’re “familiar” with the metaverse but just more than half (51 percent) have engaged with it. Millennials, on the other hand, have a higher familiarity (84 percent) and much lower engagement (37 percent).

And still, across all generations of the 600 people Zipline surveyed, 83 percent said the main reason they’ve participated in the metaverse is for gaming. So for those who aren’t donning headsets and changing their avatar’s outfit in line with their mood or the latest luxury brand drop, what’s the draw?

Turns out, a hybrid of IRL in-store experiences that bring a virtual, mixed reality element to shopping. In other words, those who can still offer the perks of shopping but artfully blended with the fun and suspended reality of metaverse tech. After all, 42 percent of respondents in Zipline’s survey said they’ve used the metaverse for shopping (though the findings don’t specify whether those purchases were virtual or real-life items), buying from brands like PacSun, Nike and Alo Yoga, among others.

When asked what other offerings they’d like to see from retailers in the metaverse, 23 percent of Gen Z and 24 percent of Millennials cited interest in exclusive product announcements and perks.

“Retail brands really just haven’t got it right for all types of consumers,” Wong said. “And the metaverse isn’t just about gaming, it’s around having this interrelated network that really focuses on connection. And what’s really interesting about retail brands is that a lot of brands thrive based off of the connection.

“When I think about the metaverse, you have to learn from incremental changes, you can’t just launch it and leave it. It will be around and rolling and testing, learning, adapting, seeing what’s resonating with consumers and figuring out, how does the metaverse apply to my specific brand? And how do my consumers want to interact with it with me?”

PacSun has so far had some success with the hybrid of IRL and virtual experiences through its PacWorld, according to Wong (PacSun is one of Zipline’s clients). PacWorld is a virtual mall on Roblox which, as PacSun co-CEO Alfred Chang said when the news dropped in March, “combines fantasy with the traditional in-store feel.” Players can design and develop their own malls, choose stores, earn virtual income and socialize with other PacSun brand fans who are building their own malls. They can also purchase PacSun “fantasy” product, like branded tees and gold wings for their avatars.

Lululemon seems to be walking the right line between real-life and metaverse branding, too, according to Wong.

In May, the company reportedly filed trademark applications for metaverse retail stores, metaverse exercise classes and an online marketplace for virtual yoga gear or associated NFTs. It would be a way to continue the real-life community building the brand has long seen success with via its in-store yoga classes, and it would further Lululemon’s ability to facilitate digital sweat, as through its acquisition of interactive in-home fitness company Mirror in 2020.

“We’re moving from an omnichannel approach to a connected commerce approach where it’s not about having many channels, it’s about how do the channels connect with each other and with the consumer in a really integrated way,” Wong said. “When you think about hybrid, I do think that there should be more focus there. I do think that there will be a shift from omnichannel to connected commerce really being a thing and I do think that metaverse will play a part in that. How? What will be the best representation of that? Who knows.”


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