The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Welcome To The Metaverse, Maybe

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By now you have all heard about the Metaverse and might even understand what Mark Zuckerberg is talking about when he describes it.

You might think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread (which, ironically, was introduced into the world several years after Betty White was born, making sliced bread the second-best thing introduced into the world in that era), or you might think it’s weird. Or you might think it’s a Hail Mary distraction pass by Mr. Zuckerberg to avoid talking about Instagram, insurrection, and intrusion.

Scott Galloway, who as you likely know is my favorite pundit thinks it is (and I quote), dead on arrival. His reasons are varied, but it seems to net out to, “Why would you want to escape into a fantasy land where you look like an avatar of yourself, when you can just use your air pods to listen what’s going on elsewhere and be in your actual body?” It’s a valid question, actually. If I want to hear Adele’s concert in Hyde Park, and I can’t go (it was sold out by the time I woke up in the morning), do I want to sit with a few thousand virtual friends and look at a virtual Adele? Or can I just listen through my ear pods?

And of course, as retailers there are intellectual property issues. If I don’t buy a Porsche, for example, should I be allowed to drive it in the Metaverse? Should I be allowed to wear expensive clothes I haven’t bought? If so, why? And why would I buy expensive clothes at a virtual checkout in my avatar form in the first place? And can I charge for virtual stuff?

I didn’t realize when I bought my Oculus 2 that the company belongs to Facebook, and I have to log in to use it. I might have made a different choice had I known. In fact, it’s the only real “end point” that Meta owns. I’m going to insert a quote here from Mr. Galloway and bleep out his expletive (just another reason I love him!).

The reason LVMH and Apple have added more shareholder value than almost any company in Europe, or any company in the world, is that they both decided they wanted control of their end distribution and they each opened about 700 stores. They decided they weren’t going to hand over their brands to Macy’s or CompUSA. The same thing is playing out here, and Zuckerberg realizes it. He’s been trying to figure out distribution for a long time. There was the Facebook phone, there was Portal, and now they’re spending a [bleep]-ton of money on Oculus. Tim Cook can’t show up on an Oculus and say, “Do you not want Mark Zuckerberg to track you? Do you want to opt out?”

I had never thought about this, but lack of end points really does put a crimp in Facebook’s world domination plans.

There are other issues as well. Back in the day, original RSR partner Nikki Baird and I became enamored with IBM’s Second Life environment. It wasn’t as immersive as VR, for sure, but it had everything else you might want. You could buy real estate, you could create your avatar any way you wanted to, and of course, you could buy real stuff…kinda sorta. What you ultimately did was click and “punch out” to the company’s website that you wanted to buy something from. I know technology has improved in the ensuing 10 years, but man, it was lame. It seemed like I’d gone to a lot of work for nothing. And there was very little personal about it.

We, as one of the original virtual companies (yes, we really were!), thought it’d be a great idea to have our company meetings on it. Zoom was barely a glimmer in someone’s eye at that time. And our other meeting tools were voice only. It just didn’t work. I mean, our avatars could meet and chat, but how would we take notes while moving the mouse around? How many body appendages would we need to use in the physical world to accomplish simple tasks in the virtual world? Too many!

And then there was the porn. The endless porn, with endless avatars trying to pick us up. Does that happen on regular social media? Of course it does. But it’s very easy to just brush off like swatting away a fly. In Second Life, it was endless. The net was, of course, we didn’t use it. Ever.

There’s also a fascinating question Galloway poses: What is it about billionaires and their desire to escape the actual planet we live on? Musk, Bezos and Zuckerberg are escaping in different ways, but escaping they are.

Anyway, we’re all part of the retail ecosystem here. And we have real world problems that can’t really be solved in virtual world environments.

A wise retailer will stick to his knitting, get supply chain problems ironed out, learn who the customer is, and tailor products to that customer’s taste. And deliver that product quickly into the customer’s hand.

I just had an image of re-targeting in the Metaverse. I felt a frisson of fear at the prospect. Mind you, I really enjoy traveling around the world in virtual reality. China, Borneo, Lake Baikal have all been virtual vacation spots lately. And I quite enjoy a meditation app that I use daily, called TrippVR. That doesn’t mean I want to live there. I don’t. I don’t want to shop there, have meetings there, or go to concerts there. I don’t think that makes me old. It makes me human. We have an actual planet to take care of. That should be a bigger priority, not escaping to the Matrix.

Maybe I’ve just turned into a curmudgeon, but I just don’t think the Metaverse is a happening thing. Invest your money elsewhere. Seriously.

Newsletter Articles November 16, 2021