Metaverse Study Offers Hope for Malls

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New research on the metaverse offers some surprising revelations, including one that may thrill mall operators.

On one hand, the study by CommerceNext, Bizrate and Coresight Research helps confirm what brands already know — that many consumers still have no idea what a metaverse is.

However, among those who do and spend time in virtual worlds, there’s a healthy appetite for shopping the metaverse for physical products, with virtual malls being of particular interest.

“We only saw 13 percent [of this group] say that they buy hairstyles or haircuts for their avatar, or 12 percent said they buy digital clothing for their avatar,” Veronika Sonsev, cofounder of CommerceNext, told WWD. “But we saw a lot of people say that they’re interested, even though they haven’t done it yet, in shopping in a virtual mall, and they’re interested in buying real-world products.”

According to the metaverse survey, which polled 557 online shoppers of different age groups, nearly half of the respondents, at 48 percent, said they hadn’t heard of the term, as noted in a cleverly titled section of the report called “Putting the Meh in Metaverse.”

Ultimately, less than one-fifth said they were familiar with virtual worlds or participated in them. The researchers drilled down into this group to glean insights about their interests. That’s when they saw that a significant portion want their avatars to hit the mall, particularly older consumers.

The interest breaks down to 29 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 35 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds, 35 percent of 40- to 49-year-olds and 37 percent of 50- to 59-year-olds. The generational difference could come down to who even remembers the time when the mall was the social and cultural touchstone for communities.

The broader concept of shopping the metaverse for physical goods registered even more, breaking down to 43 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 49 percent of 40- to 49-year-olds and 42 percent of 50- to 59-year-olds. Least interested were 30- to 39-year-olds, with 26 percent.

“To me, those were very promising statistics,” Sonsev continued. “It’s still early, but the idea of using virtual worlds to buy physical products is something that consumers are interested in. That was really surprising to us.”

It’s fair to question whether these numbers translate to the mall business in the real world. The shopping orientation could be influenced by the nature of this sample as well, as more than half, at 58 percent, happened to be women. Still, Sonsev believes the signs look rather good.

“The metaverse, by any means, is still early adopters. But the imagination of the people who have used virtual worlds was very much leaning into, ‘I could see myself buying physical goods here, getting a sense of these products and then shopping in malls and shopping with my friends,’” she added.

“So I think it points to opportunities to come, as more and more people spend time on virtual worlds.”

The study also looked at other contexts, inside and outside the metaverse, including virtual events, social commerce and livestream shopping — the latter of which hasn’t latched onto the mainstream consciousness either. According to the report, over half of the respondents, at 54 percent, hadn’t heard of it.

In other words, more people have heard of the metaverse than livestream shopping.

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