How The Metaverse Will Increase Demand For Customization

Woman wearing VR headset and shopping in the metaverse

The Metaverse had its public coming-out party on Superbowl Sunday, and it was, well, interesting. Set to Simple Minds’ 1985 teen anthem, Don’t You Forget About Me, Meta Platforms’ 90-second ad told the story of a discarded animatronic dog who finds purpose as someone’s avatar in the Metaverse–or rather, the animatronic dog kind of gets his mojo back. Or maybe it’s the same thing? Let’s just say it’s complicated, which is fitting since the ad was the brainchild of Meta, better known as Facebook.

The ad is officially titled, Old Friends. New Fun, and it’s worth re-watching on YouTube because of what it implies for the Metaverse, which Meta/Facebook has spent $10 billion creating–so far. First, the ad implies that whatever was trendy decades ago will be brought back virtually. This idea is more a nod to demographic reality than nostalgia. Indeed, I would not be surprised if Facebook’s creative people were inspired by the fact that the vast majority of popular music streamed on digital platforms like Spotify these days is considered “old.

In other words: old music, new fun.

Another implication of Meta’s Superbowl ad is that we will all soon have digital avatars–Reese Witherspoon actually Tweeted this a while back–and we will want them to look as cool as ourselves, maybe even cooler. This idea would bring a new twist to the old saying that art imitates life. Because what will happen in the Metaverse is that art will reflect one’s life and vice-versa. If you wear a coveted pair of sneakers in real life, for example, you’ll want the same–or similar–for your avatar. Conversely, if your avatar finds a cool digital hat in a digital shop or video game, your physical self may start to get a little jealous and splurge.

So what the Metaverse means, in business terms, is that retailers, creators, and manufacturers will now have twice as many opportunities to sell their stuff to the same consumer. But there’s a big caveat: that stuff won’t be the mass-market swag of the past. People, and their avatars, will want something custom that expresses their unique selves.

Article Summary
  1. What Is the Metaverse?
  2. Whatever You Can Imagine
  3. The Meta-Mall
  4. Custom
  5. Small Is Beautiful

What Is the Metaverse?

For starters, let’s be clear that the Metaverse is not the Multiverse. The latter is a make-believe cinematic world that brings together most of the Marvel superheroes and sometimes brings them back from the dead. As such, the Multiverse exists for entertainment purposes only.

The Metaverse, on the other hand, is a nascent digital ecosystem conceived to be inhabited by billions of people wearing some type of immersion-enabling goggles. This will be a place where people can not only be entertained but entertain themselves. They will also work, socialize, learn, create and, of course, shop here. Ultimately, it will be bigger than the real world by degrees of magnitude because the past will exist concurrently with the present.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the Metaverse’s biggest cheerleader and investor. He happens to be very focused on its monetization, which should come as no surprise to anyone who uses Instagram or Facebook. Zuckerberg expects the Metaverse to generate hundreds of billions of commerce in ten years. At present, his company is paying software developers a ton of money to develop its virtual real estate, create apps that people will want to use, and, most of all, create content that people will pay for.

Whatever You Can Imagine

The appeal of a virtual world is that it’s almost limitless. You can go to work without sitting through traffic. You can choose the best view in the universe for your virtual windows. You can make people see you as you see yourself–or as you’d like them to see you.

In other words, as technology advances, the Metaverse will be limited only by its creators’ collective imagination. This doesn’t mean that everyone will be a creator, but it does mean that there will be a lot more creativity to choose from. Just as Amazon can display exponentially more products than a department store or even an entire shopping mall, the Metaverse will present a lot more possibilities (of all kinds) than a static website. As avatars navigate virtual worlds, social events, concerts, offices, schools, and video games, pretty much everything they see will be for sale.

From the looks of it, the Metaverse’s seamless monetization will make live-streaming seem downright archaic.

The Meta-Mall

The Metaverse won’t just contain a mega-mall but will it’ll have a Meta-Mall. This very real virtual reality could change the game for the apparel industry, in which my company, Ricoma, operates. Full disclosure: the Metaverse may very well create unparalleled opportunities for our clients.

How so? For much of the last century, people shopped for clothes either at a department store or boutique. Mail order was popular for those who lived primarily in rural areas, where neither was convenient. TV shopping was for bored old folks. The rise of big-box discount retailers like Target changed the game by offering somewhat generic but popular fashions at very low prices. Then came Amazon and Alibaba, which both opened huge clothing stores. More recently, second-hand clothing apps digitized what had mostly been a niche business dominated by local vintage boutiques and flea markets.

Today, consumers can buy clothes directly from the social media accounts of their favorite celebrities and influencers. The trend line is clear: from mass-market clothing to custom pieces that express the buyer’s unique identity.

Custom

“Custom” apparel can imply many things–from a one-of-a-kind garment, such as Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, to a mass-market item that’s been customized with embroidery or even a piece of apparel that’s simply been worn or signed by a celebrity–or anyone else. Vintage clothing, for example, is unique in the sense that no one piece has been worn the same way. But faded dye and tears aren’t really “custom” in the sense that they were not created for anyone in particular. They just happened.

The Metaverse will clearly not be about people discarding their old clothes for cash, at least not primarily. It will not be a flea market but a sophisticated marketplace for truly custom pieces designed for a particular individual in order for them to express their uniqueness. And here’s where it gets interesting. Virtually, a digital item can be considered “custom” simply by assigning it a unique serial number. This is why creators can sell non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, as one-of-a-kind. Even though the item itself is digital and therefore infinitely replicable, there is only one NFT with that particular serial number, which makes digital art or apparel more similar to lithographs or limited editions of sneakers.

But physical items are truly custom, and we see the Metaverse creating a huge demand for the “real” versions of “virtual” items, particularly clothes. The idea of custom apparel is not new, of course. Both of the world’s largest marketplaces, Alibaba and Amazon, sell customized clothes of some kind. Alibaba has even developed enterprise software to transform clothing factories from cookie-cutters to customization super-machines. The holy grail is an industrial-scale factory that can fill orders “on demand” rather than turn out millions of pieces of clothing that will sit on a store shelf for a few months, only to be dumped at a close-out retailer or even destroyed.

Tesla has applied the customization principle in cars. Rather than build dealerships with huge lots full of generic cars, Tesla allows its customers to customize their vehicles online. The factory then builds it to their unique specifications. This not only gives customers exactly what they want, but it also negates the need for a dealer to carry large amounts of inventory, which is both expensive to float and difficult to manage.

In the apparel business, customization is even more attractive because it promises far fewer returns. While e-commerce has proven to be a runaway success for our industry, the inordinately large percentage of clothes that are returned–due to poor fit, a customer changing their mind, or simply opportunism—are killing margins and laying waste to the environment. During its last holiday quarter, Amazon lost money on its e-commerce business in the United States and overseas. Returns were a big reason why.

Small Is Beautiful

Factories that can economically produce custom goods are one solution, but they are still factories. Even as Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce marketplace, helps factories exit the mass-market era, its mantra remains the same: “small is beautiful.” We agree. That’s why rather than build our own apparel factories, we help entrepreneurs set up small businesses in embroidery and printing; then, we help these small businesses grow into medium-sized businesses. As small, local businesspeople, our clients are simply in a much better position to create something unique than any overseas factory.

Mark Zuckerberg envisions the Metaverse as the world’s first seamless global economy. This will create a department store bigger than any country. But it will be patronized by billions of individuals, all wanting to express themselves in unique ways. Human nature dictates that the more people, the more we will yearn to express our individuality. Let’s say your avatar goes to a virtual concert and spots a hat or t-shirt with the band’s logo on it. Or perhaps they happen to see another concertgoer wearing something chic from a virtual store. You probably won’t just want that item on your virtual self; you’ll want to show it off in the real world, too.

Maybe the best way to think about the Metaverse is as an extension of our post-Covid, non-virtual reality. Rather than being “remote” or “in-office,” for example, most of us will be hybrids. Whatever our circumstances, we will live our lives online and offline. We will still shop online and in our favorite stores, but the Metaverse will offer an enticing alternative, a virtual bazaar unlike any other, where small is beautiful, and custom is king.

Interested in learning more about the Metaverse? MP covers many areas of the Metaverse, including business, ethics, legal, and more.