With the introduction of social media came a new iteration of the internet, one often referred to as “Web 2.0.” Yet, as digital sectors continue evolving to integrate innovations like blockchain, decentralized economics, and the Metaverse, we find ourselves moving closer towards an even newer version of the internet: Web 3.0.
When we think about the ways in which we currently use the internet, we often think about the platforms we use and the services they provide to our personal and professional lives in the real world. By comparison, the emergence of Web 3.0 and the Metaverse will force us to reconsider not only how these once fully-digital services will interlace with the real world, but also how they can be used to spur the growth of existing industries and consumer markets—and create entirely new ones.
“As we currently understand the concept of the Metaverse,” says Henry Ma, CEO of Ricoma, a global leader amongst the apparel industry’s embroidery and print manufacturers, “we view it as this intersection of creative expression, e-commerce, and social interaction. Each one of these factors is likewise rooted in the core of the global apparel industry,” which is projected to grow to some $2.25 trillion in value by 2025.
Recently, we asked Ma about what the advent of the Metaverse will mean for the apparel industry, including how innovations such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), e-commerce, and other technologies could impact the industry throughout the digital landscape’s next evolution. Ma, whose leadership helped spur Ricoma into a young champion of the custom embroidery and apparel industry, offered us the following insight.
How the Metaverse will change the online retail experience
Following the onset of the 2020 pandemic, many fashion retailers and apparel brands doubled down on their virtual offerings to consumers. In a matter of months, some of the world’s largest names in apparel began integrating AR/VR technology into their digital stores, turning them into virtual showrooms that allowed customers to see how an item would look on them before deciding whether or not to purchase it.
“If you currently search for items like pieces of furniture on Amazon,” Ma says, “you’ll see this ‘View in Your Room’ feature, which uses AR to show you how the product will look in your room before you buy it. This same technology has already been implemented by some fashion retailers and brands in the apparel industry, and is bound to become more widely adopted by even more brands as they steadily grow e-commerce platforms and consumer demand in the Metaverse.”
As Ma explains, an increasing number of consumers have placed greater value on the ability of brands to offer digital interactions and self-service options. According to research from McKinsey, 70-80% of B2B decision-makers also prefer these options, as the needs of their customers continue driving them to adopt additional e-commerce and digital retail avenues.
“In the future of the Metaverse,” Ma continues, “I expect that we won’t just see stores and showrooms where customers can try on apparel products in full VR, but entirely virtual shopping malls with integrated and more interactive AR where consumers can ‘test run’ products they’re interested in before purchasing them.”
According to Ma, such a shift for the apparel industry could tackle another common issue many brands face regarding inventory. In a realm fueled by AR/VR such as the Metaverse, there will be no need for brands or retailers to possess large quantities of products in their inventory. Additionally, offering a greater variety of products through AR/VR could grant customers better customization options, as each product they buy would be made-to-order. Should this be the case, it will undoubtedly open the door to another technological offering speculated by many to add value both within and outside of the Metaverse: non-fungible tokens.
The role of NFTs as apparel
Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs as they are more commonly known as, were one of the most popular talking points in tech sectors throughout 2021. Essentially, NFTs act as digital receipts (i.e., tokens) that represent the purchase of a digital product or asset on the blockchain, which is typically done using some form of cryptocurrency. That asset can then be sold or traded to other users on an NFT marketplace, with some being sold for tens of millions of dollars.
“We’re already seeing a push from some of the biggest names in apparel moving into the NFT space,” Ma tells us, citing sportswear giant Nike’s purchase of RTFKT Studios in late 2021. “As more of these companies adopt the integration of NFTs into their product lines, it could completely change the game of retail apparel as we know it.”
To add credence to Ma’s point, one reason NFTs have become so widely popular over the past year is their inherent uniqueness. Because each individual NFT comes embedded with a digital signature verifying its authenticity and ownership, no two are ever exactly the same. This ties in perfectly with the notion of apparel consumers placing higher value and emphasis on aspects of personalization and customization, as well as the Metaverse’s capability to all but do away with traditionally cumbersome inventories for apparel brands. The apparel industry’s utilization of NFTs as digital products in the Metaverse could serve as a means to bolster apparel brands’ CX while simultaneously providing additional value to consumers themselves.
“In the future of the apparel industry regarding NFTs in the Metaverse,” says Ma, “I foresee customers lining up to link their blockchain or cryptocurrency wallets to their personal Metaverse accounts. Once verified, those users could then theoretically materialize the apparel they acquired as NFTs in the Metaverse and sell or trade them to other users, or even to brands via virtual retail stores. The rarer a particular NFT is, the more it could sell for, granting customers even more value from doing business with the brands they wish to.”
Should Ma’s insight ultimately prove to be the case, describing the integration of NFTs into the future of the Metaverse for the greater apparel industry as a “game-changer” would be a vast understatement. Although the full potential of this remains to be seen — and likely won’t be for the better part of a decade, at best — Ma is far from alone in his predictions for what the introduction of the Metaverse could mean for the apparel industry.
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