By Brian Walker
CEO & Founder, Retail Doctor Group
As technology continues to advance, major tech companies are heavily investing in devices and capabilities to open the Metaverse to users worldwide. How will this then change the way consumers shop in the future and at which rate?
Changes in technology – and in retail – are moving so quickly that the ways available to consumers to shop has become one of the most important technological conversations you will have about the future of your brand.
The end of the iPhone is, in fact, the end of the handheld device altogether. It sounds like a paradox, especially considering today’s generations practically have their hands glued to their devices!
As a society on the whole, humans are consuming between four to five hours of input per day on average. The growth of the Metaverse is set to change that in subtle ways we never thought of before.
Death of the iPhone
Is a world without the iPhone possible in the future of retail? It’s certainly not going to happen tomorrow, but the writing’s on the wall for smart devices. The signs of this are everywhere.
It’s also being echoed amongst a lot of the patterns emerging in investments poured into the Metaverse:
- Some of the biggest retailers in the world, like Walmart, are saying they’re going all-in on the Metaverse.
- That the Metaverse will have its own digital crypto currency.
- And Apple doesn’t really care much about the death of the iPhone, anyway.
Rumours have it that Apple is in heavy development of a very, very high-end VR headset that’s going to completely change the game for VR and the Metaverse. In theory, of course. We know, based on their track record and their history, that:
- It will be very design- and experience-centric.
- It will be expensive as hell.
- The quality will be very high; and
- The ecosystem will be built out behind that.
Apple Announcements have already dropped some of the strategic decision-making that went into bringing their major CPU chip design and product development inhouse. One of the reasons behind this decision included the fact that no other maker could or would work with small enough chips that used small enough amounts of power. Smaller and more powerful are what’s driving the next generation of not only these guys right here, but the next generation of tablets and laptops, too.
We now know that Apple are standardising their chip lines. We know they’re standardising their dye sets. And they’re standardising that based on a very, very small, very low-power mobile form factor that’s going to be universal across their devices. Or, largely universal across their devices.
Mark Zuckerberg is famous for betting the farm on new technology. We can see what Apple’s intent is. We can see where they’re putting their investment. We can see where they see the future going. And we can also see the massive amounts of money going into development by Meta.
It took Zuckerberg 18 months to pivot Facebook – and its entire family of apps – from a desktop focus to a mobile focus. They spent billions of dollars to do it, and developed cutting-edge mobile apps that were better than any other at the time.
He then bet the farm by spending $1 billion on Instagram after just 400 or 450 days of that company being in existence. Everybody called him insane for doing something crazy like that but this guy is not afraid to put his money where his mouth is, without knowing where it’s going to end up.
For the consumer in retail 2030 and beyond, that potentially means there are no longer devices that connect us. The future of 5G shopping is network-sensored and integrated technology in clothing and wearable accessories. The future is mixed reality.
AR versus VR
Even though it’s almost a given that digital malls will take over from physical malls in the future, we know that augmented reality is set to become the norm. Eventually, full-blown 3D 100% virtual environments will take over, but not just yet.
In terms of the device battle, it’s really going to be won by AR glasses before they’re won by VR goggles. People still have physical lives that they want to live. They’re not yet ready for the completely matrix-esk virtual world, yet.
We’re probably about a decade away from real serious mainstream adoption of a completely virtual world. Right now, absolutely everybody can understand and appreciate AR and its benefits.
For example, modern jet fighter pilots would give up their right arms before they’d give up their HUDs – their heads-up display panel. The HUDs allow for a 3D overlay on the canopy of their aircraft in that three-dimensional space. And thanks to the HUD, these fighter pilots can see what’s really going on around them, including threat detection, weapons stores, and fuel stores. And they see it right within their plane of view.
It does not interrupt what they’re seeing (like an advert on YouTube would, for instance), but rather, it adds to and enhances the overall experience of what they’re seeing. The process also allows for an exchange of data between the two computers, relaying hard-to-come-by information back and forth without disrupting what they’re doing.
AR in retail is going to be exactly like that when it comes to consumers wearing their AR glasses to shop. We’re going to be able to look out across a physical space like a mall and have the layout visible to us in our AR glasses. Little speech bubbles will pop up, similar to those in Google Maps, with all the information we need to navigate that physical space.
We’ll be able to interact with that overlay and call up additional data, such as stock levels, colour choices in products, and items on sale. It is quite possible that AR glasses even eliminate a lot of what we do with our phones today when shopping. The technology to make that happen on a public domain level (and not just in military contexts) is getting better by the day.
These AR glasses will extend into our everyday lives, too. Our daily physical experiences will be enhanced to the point where walking your dog means we’ll be able to look at a plant we’ve never seen before and call up the information to define it on an overlaid screen.
We’ll be able to multitask of a sort, taking calls, ordering groceries, and interacting with AI systems to live our lives and organise what must be done.
VR Payment Methods
Once the AR glasses have helped us do our shopping and schedule our lives, the need to transfer funds to purchase those items and services as we’re arranging them arises. At the end of the day, we know the world is moving to a walletised environment. That’s really the underlying change around the move to AI, AR, VR and an online environment. Combined with crypto currency, you can see that the walletisation of everything is now a priority.
Every major payment provider now has your details. Shopify, ApplePay, Klarna, AfterPay, and GooglePay have all got your payment details. And when you want to execute a transaction, you just have to click one button, authorise one transaction, and the money’s gone.
Ease of Access to Data
Payment providers already have your delivery details stored and waiting for your next transaction. They’ve got absolutely everything they need to know about you to interact with you stored in their system.
Increasingly, this block of information – this unique persona that is you – will be stored on a universal blockchain location with a personal ID that can be shared selectively with any other payments provider or supplier in an instant. Consumers will be able to both approve and revoke authorisation at any given point in time, from a central store of their own personal data.
That’s really where the world is heading. In fact, the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) is trying to enforce that. Major companies like Meta (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc.) are already saying they’re possibly going to have to pull out of Europe because they can’t comply with the GDPR.
Now, the GDPR was built on 7 defining principles:
- Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
- Purpose limitation
- Data minimisation
- Storage limitations
- Integrity and confidentiality (security); and
Most companies are saying they can comply with every one of those principles, except the one that limits storage. And that’s because unless they’ve got data centres in Europe, it’s very difficult for them to comply with the GDPR.
In America, most companies are also wrestling with privacy concerns. Almost every single major SaaS and Cloud company around the world really struggles in Europe if they’re not based there. There really is no way around the GDPR clause about storage in Europe.
Blockchain is one of the silver bullets that will make this all possible and still comply with GDPR regulations.
Web3 and Maturing Technologies
Web3 is not just about one single technology. There are actually multiple technologies, all reaching similar levels of maturity at the same time.
Obviously, everybody has heard of Bitcoin by now. Even if they’ve never bought, used, or fully understand it, they’ve heard the term ‘Bitcoin’ before. And although the world is now moving beyond the era of Bitcoin, it can be regarded as a generation one blockchain technology.
Apart from being able to be used as a cryptocurrency, it really has no other utility behind it. It is a fungible asset that’s actually similar to currency because it can be used in a value exchange for goods and services.
New layer-one blockchains have come out with their associated cryptocurrencies, and they all have extreme levels of utility. Amongst these, one specifically usable utility emerged: NFTs.
Obviously, the concept of NFTs or non-fundable tokens may be difficult to grasp at first as we move deeper into a walletised retail environment. NFTs simply refer to digital art or digital assets – along with a record of their ownership and value – that are stored on the blockchain.
An NFT turns an asset into a token, issuing a certificate of ownership of the digital artwork, once purchased. This builds trust and authority for the source or NFT being purchased. And, much like a genuine Picasso remains valuable after fake copies are manufactured, NFTs authentically prove the original value of the artwork.
Smart Contracts and Blockchains
And then we’ve got the underlying technology that drives that, which is smart contracts. And the ability to store contractual obligations and agreements on a blockchain that then is easily transferred, is easily underpinned by a cryptocurrency of its own.
One of the most popular new blockchains is Solana. Comparatively, and using the categorisation already used to mark Bitcoin as a Gen-1 cryptocurrency, Ethereum could then almost be classified as a Gen-2 blockchain. In this tier, Solana would be a Gen-3 blockchain.
Cryptocurrencies are referred to in generations for two reasons:
- They are based on the amount of utility that they add, over and above their underlying cryptocurrency value.
- And the levels of fee structure and commercial benefit are associated with that particular blockchain.
Ethereum supports smart contracts. It supports NFTs. It supports lots of modern concepts around blockchain capabilities. And you can build apps on it like you can on Solana.
But, the difference between Ethereum and Solana is that Ethereum’s gas fees are extremely high. And gas fees are used for transactional costs associated with a particular blockchain.
Retailers will need to adapt to this new type of currency. It’s an absolutely fluent and intelligent system that holds data in all sorts of various vestibules.
What Else Do Retailers Need to Consider?
In part two of this series, we will discover how retailers will adapt to this change. Be sure to keep an eye on our socials to know when this goes live.
Brian Walker is the founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, a retail advisory and consultancy group and the Australian elected partner member of the global retail expert’s alliance Ebeltoft Group. As an internationally renowned retail expert and experienced retail speaker, Brian understands what makes retailers and brands successful. Want to learn more about the future of retail? Contact us at +61 2 9460 2882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.