The metaverse is now part of the curriculum. ByondXR, which offers an immersive virtual retail experience, created an exclusive course for the Fashion Institute of Technology, “The Business of Virtual Merchandising.”
In the spring semester, the course, using the company’s software, focused on sustainability and technology in fashion. This fall semester, the course focuses on the changes in retail merchandising for wholesale showrooms, retail visual merchandising and online platforms, and business-to-business and business-to-consumer models, the company said.
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“The course teaches students to apply cloud-based virtual software to create virtual showrooms for wholesale and retail brands,” ByondXR said in a statement. “Throughout the semester, they will be able to apply their skills to merchandise collections, plan and allocate product catalogues and create visual merchandising presentations — all in a virtual setting.”
It’s been a busy time for ByondXR. This past September, the company teamed up with Deutsche Telekom to create “the first real-life full metaverse shopping experience” at the Digital X event in Cologne, Germany. ByondXR set up several stations showcasing metaverse shopping via a sample beach store. The first experience represents AR shopping, where visitors viewed products from the store in augmented reality while completing an interactive activation. Another station let visitors view a 360-degree, fully 3D-rendered virtual store. And there was also a virtual reality store and a Roblox version, too.
Here, Noam Levavi, chief executive officer and cofounder of ByondXR, shares insights about the user experience of the metaverse, how brands and retailers can leverage it, and the value proposition for companies looking to tap the metaverse’s potential for shopping.
WWD: Can you share what the user experience is like for consumers shopping in the metaverse?
Noam Levavi: The user experience in the metaverse is much closer to what we experience in real life. It’s a 3D environment where people can navigate freely and have unique journeys within virtual stores or showrooms, discover new products, explore items, play mini games and interact with avatars. Users can collaborate with salespeople, virtual consultants and, most importantly, their friends. It’s the ultimate shopping experience, plus some exciting new features, minus the anxiety of lines, bad weather and the time it takes to get to an actual store.
Additionally, immersive technologies used in the metaverse add to the realness of the experiences through things like 3D product views, virtual try-ons, conversational AI, product augmentation and more. Shopping in the metaverse helps to encapsulate the consumer fully in the brand experience, which typical websites cannot do. Consumers can not only shop, but they can also learn about a brand’s values, interact with products, play games, watch videos and live feeds, and understand their sustainability measures and social initiatives.
WWD: What are the opportunities in the metaverse for retailers and brands?
N.L.: Opportunities for brands and retailers are to form better emotional connections with their customers, provide a much better experience than the usual tedious, endless feeds and capture the attention of the users in new fun ways. The infrastructure costs are going down each quarter, and it is more affordable today also for smaller brands/retailers to build amazing photo-realistic environments for their customers. Ways to introduce your brand and build a meaningful and relevant connection with the consumers are endless.
With much less of a cost, brands can be as creative as possible and truly jump out of their regular route to introduce innovative products and engage with consumers of every generation. There are numerous metaverse initiatives that can be attractive to Millennials, like Web 3.0, NFT art and exclusive items, while others, such as gaming-friendly stores in Roblox, Fortnite and Zepeto, would drive in more of a Generation Z crowd.
Depending on the way brands approach their activity in the metaverse, they can almost certainly pick and choose who they target and how they want to be presented as a brand. We’ve come a long way in showcasing different types of experiences brands can have in the metaverse — our latest success was a full metaverse shopping experience we’ve shown live at Digital X, the leading European digitization conference where the same physical store was represented in six different and engaging ways: AR, VR, Web 3.0, Roblox and 360 web and full 3D web. We’ve also showcased NFTs, avatars and their iterations, deep-faking “videofied” photos and many more. All of these are incredible engagement and brand awareness-building opportunities for brands in the metaverse.
Lastly, the metaverse will drastically change training employees for brands. We’ve already launched several internal learning virtual stores for luxury brands — it’s revolutionary to see how much time and resources it saves and how much more employees can train together, learn about the physical stores, merchandising and interact around the world at the same time while the employers can be sure that the experience is personalized for each region.
WWD: What does ByondXR offer, and how do you work with brands?
N.L.: ByondXR offers an immersive commerce platform that empowers brands, retailers and agencies to build and manage virtual stores with extremely photorealistic environments, comprehensive navigation, and an array of add-ons and plugins. All the experiences can be embedded into the customer’s websites and integrated with all major e-commerce platforms, including Salesforce, Shopify, Magento and SAP, among others.
ByondXR provides a SaaS model with a simple onboarding process to make it easy for any brand to step into the metaverse and build virtual experiences. The platform supports the beta deployment of virtual stores onto some of the leading metaverse platforms and virtual worlds — like Roblox, Decentraland, Zepto and many more. It introduces new commerce capabilities to the veteran VR and AR platforms that have been our signature capabilities since 2016.
In addition, the platform enables users and partners to fully manage and configure their own virtual stores by changing products, adding plugins, features, visuals and more. Controlling plugins lets users add their own e-commerce, media and fun elements inside. Users can now decide what, when and how they want to showcase in their store, making managing a virtual store comprehensive, easy and quick.
Brands can start with small pop-up stores, grow to large virtual store environments and even build a full brand universe with lots of activations, interactions, education and gamification. P&G is an interesting example, breaking through the concept of traditional retail storefronts and instead displaying products in usage scenarios. This exclusive 360-degree shopping experience absolutely revolutionizes the way we buy household items — users get to roam through different house rooms and complete tasks while shopping for shampoo, dishwashing soap, etc.
ByondXR deployed hundreds of virtual stores in more than 30 countries in the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America and help many fortune 500 companies to scale quickly with personalized stores in each market/country. The brands get a full analysis of consumer behavior for each market to help improve the user journey and enhance conversions.
WWD: What is the value proposition of the metaverse for retail, fashion apparel, beauty and luxury brands?
N.L.: The metaverse, above all, lets brands be innovative and provide better experiences to address what users are looking for today — a story, something to connect to, something to engage with and feel like the purchase came naturally and is not something forced on you. There is fierce competition online, and it’s all about the experiences — taking it to a whole new level with photorealistic graphics, engaging features, games, livestreams, avatars, AR, VR, you name it. Beauty brands are all about the way they make customers feel when they wear the products. With the metaverse, these brands can take users to new heights of brand awareness and storytelling, creating whole worlds of beauty. The same goes for luxury brands but with exclusivity.
An environment that is open for all and interactive is a great playground to create exclusive worlds, products or stores. Fashion apparel brands can create endless designs and make them exclusive. The metaverse opens all the doors to personalization, and fashion brands absolutely need to embrace that, letting customers add their own personal touch to the items they buy from these brands. Merging the physical with the metaverse is a perfect strategy for fashion apparel where customers purchase regular items in stores and make them into something absolutely fantastic in their metaverse worlds using AR, VR and other tech. Lastly, for each of these categories, the metaverse is a great way to stay sustainable. As more stores will start providing a “phygital” retail experience, the overall inventory and other wastes will go down exponentially.
Physical retail stores have a big problem with inventory management and waste management. By adopting the virtual setups and becoming a phygital store instead of just a physical store, retailers can decrease the overall waste to a greater extent. Brands can elevate their experience to new heights attracting younger audiences and building better return on investment models for their online presence. With the right virtual stores, brands improve commerce key product indicators such as conversion, basket size, sales and lead generation.