The amount of global coverage for the metaverse has ramped up in recent times, creating the impression that it will soon become a common way to sell, play and work online. But for many people, there is confusion around what the metaverse actually is and how it could be used in a practical way.
The metaverse is a form of internet that operates as a blended and immersive virtual world, powered by a mix of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). What’s interesting is that the foundations of the metaverse are being built into technology you may already use today.
We thought we’d look at what needs to happen for the metaverse to reach its full potential, and where opportunities for dabbling in it now already exist. Let’s look at how you can start becoming better versed in the metaverse.
Interactions must become high-fidelity
We’ve seen the pandemic act as a huge accelerator for the adoption of video conferencing technology globally, and it’s something that continues to evolve as technology provides richer forms of interaction and collaboration.
While the full realisation of the metaverse as a blended digital and physical reality are still some time away, a closer marker of success would be the ability to virtually interact with other people in high-enough fidelity to adequately compensate for not actually being in the same room. Getting to this level would mean an augmented experience needs to mirror in close detail what would happen in the real world.
Where this is already possible is within workplace learning tools, such as onboarding, coaching and virtual hangouts, which all use augmented reality in some form. Not only can you allow your employees to create avatars that best represent them and their style, you can also create custom environments for people to hang out and play, fostering opportunities for more intimate watercooler chat and socialisation that’s difficult to create in large video hangouts alone.
In these virtual spaces, where you can control everything down to the art on the walls, you can create engaging and collaborative environments that have the potential to foster productive work and creative fun in equal measure.
Some companies are taking this further and starting to make this a key component of their workplace experience. Accenture, for example, uses a concept they’ve termed the ‘The Nth Floor’: a metaverse environment to mirror their real-world offices. This offers team members the opportunity to work together from wherever they are in the world.
Other examples of platforms that are starting to facilitate socialisation and co-working in the metaverse are Frame, AltSpaceVR and Horizon Worlds. All are pretty early on in their development, but it’s possible to check them out now and see what might work for you.
Augmenting the product experience
It’s important to remember that the metaverse isn’t one singular destination, or ‘world’. Instead, it’s a series of different technologies that are combined to blend the digital and physical worlds, creating an ‘extended reality’.
People could experience this reality in multiple ways, ranging from a fully immersive experience (like through VR headsets and other gear), as a digital overlay on the physical world (think AR glasses that allow the real world to still be visible), or being able to interact with digital twins of material goods.
For the metaverse to really take off, those digital representations of physical goods need to be examined, tested and purchased securely. This means you’d need to offer an immersive, sensory experience for a product similar to that in a store. This could open up possibilities for more meaningful purchasing — as well as lower returns — into a market that’s not geo-limited in any way.
So, how can that happen online, where you can’t physically see and feel the product?
For Hayley and Andy Worley, an Australian small business and Xero customer, it’s something they knew they wanted to be able to offer their customers. The Sheet Society has a simple mission: to better the sleep of people around the world. It was this lack of product experience that originally spurred Hayley on to found the business.
“I was shopping for sheets, and everything was wrapped in plastic with no ability to really see the product before I bought it — and that was in a physical store environment,” Hayley told us. “I come from a fashion background, and when you shop for clothes, a big part of the experience is seeing how the product works together. You can’t do that with a sealed product.”
“I think it’s the same with sheets. People should be able to curate a bed the same way they curate an outfit. When I got the sheets home, they were scratchy with awful piping that I didn’t see through the packaging, and the colours didn’t work back with what I already had at home. The whole thing could have been avoided.”
Hayley saw potential in metaverse-style tooling to help with this, and it was something she became passionate about offering her customers. In 2020, they built The Bed Builder — an AR experience that allows customers to not only build their own mix-and-match bed setup, but overlay it in their bedroom using nothing more than their phone camera.
“This is so important,” Hayley said. “A bed is a really special place, and you should love yours. Our Bed Builder means you can assess everything in your setup — selecting the fabric and colour combination, and then projecting it into your space using the AR tool. It takes it to another level, because you can then literally see how it will go with your bed frame, the artwork on your walls, the wallpaper, even the lamp and light next to your bed. You can experience the whole combination. It’s super cool.”
So, why did Hayley and Andy feel the need to extend their business offering with this technology?
“Well, we’re a challenger brand. Not only is being able to mix-and-match one of our key brand pillars, but we’re operating in a really interesting landscape at the moment with that whole omni-channel experience becoming more and more prevalent. I’m so glad we took the plunge on investing in this tech, because the Bed Builder page on our site has a higher basket size and conversion rate than any of our ecommerce category pages.”
If it’s true that brands should consider reframing human-centred experiences in light of the metaverse’s arrival, then take it from The Sheet Society — taking the leap to reinvent customer journeys using AR can really pay off.
Advisors: stay up-to-date with learnings
For accountants and bookkeepers, the ability to offer services to anyone in the world who needs them, with no limitations on their experience, is an exciting prospect. Services for clients in remote areas with otherwise limited access to great financial advice and auditing are increasingly within reach, and at a higher level of quality and interaction.
It’s this global reach concept that’s attracted interest from big firms and smaller practices in recent years, and highlighted the need for dedicated strategic and technical advice from advisors at the forefront of metaverse tools — particularly on things like non-fungible tokens (NFTs), Web 3.0 integrations and the management of crypto assets.
A willingness for practices to experiment and create new ways of interacting with peers, clients and brands through technology is going to be important if we are truly going to unlock the potential of the metaverse as it emerges.
Ultimately, while the metaverse will help people digitally interact in far more connected, seamless and vibrant ways, maximising the advantage of its potential will still rely heavily on traditional business nous. Knowing how to reach out to your customers and clients, knowing what their needs are and how to anticipate them, and knowing what new tools are in the toolbox and how your business or practice might be best positioned to leverage them is what will take this technology from hype-filled to helpful.
At Xero, we’re committed to helping you to understand and make sense of what’s on the horizon when it comes to emerging technologies like the metaverse, as well as many others that are predicted to be a key part of future business operations. You can check out our Future Focus playlist on YouTube for more.