The other night, heading home from the office before a wintry mix was scheduled to begin, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things. I grabbed some fresh necessities: a red bell pepper, a bag of onions to use in cooking this week. In the refrigerated section, I stopped short. Did we need more spinach or was there enough at home? What was the sell-by date on the container in the fridge? I couldn’t remember.
I chucked the large plastic box into my cart, just to be safe. Later at home, I rolled my eyes, finding the box in my refrigerator, also large, was yet unopened and set to expire in a couple days. I sighed, mentally plotting recipes that use spinach for the week.
In just a couple years, we won’t be making the same mistakes. Maybe you’ve seen the video featuring Walmart’s plans for virtual shopping in the metaverse. In the scene, a shopper searches for a bottle of wine. The product details, price, and a discount on a recommended movie rental displays on the screen. The shopper’s identity and age have already been verified, and they add the wine to their cart. Next, the avatar grabs a gallon of milk, but a notification pops up from their smart fridge, reminding them that they already have milk at home.
The video has been shared on Twitter with the trending #metaverse as a wild visualization of what might be possible now that more companies are jumping into virtual and augmented reality. But fact checkers revealed that it was first shown five years ago, at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) innovation festival in 2017.
Facebook’s late-2021 name change announcement added “meta” to our daily vocabulary, but the concept has been forming for years. Hints of a digital, connected reality are already becoming part of our normal existence and organizations must start to prepare. It will require ecosystems that are seamlessly interconnected, an acceptance of the death of industries as we know them, and intimate knowledge of your customers who will be spending more time at home than ever before.
Your customers are taking steps toward the metaverse
When pandemic lockdowns threatened to decimate the retail shopping experience, companies like Cost Plus World Market moved quickly to create a virtual experience to replicate the in-store model. The specialty import store’s holiday market used 3D renderings to allow shoppers to “walk” through, select items, and add them to a virtual cart.
According to Fast Company, Matterport is the company using digital twin technologies to help companies turn physical stores into virtual models. By the end of 2020, holiday shoppers at World Market, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Sam’s Club were already shopping in a 360-degree virtual view of a physical store.
Likewise, in many homes, smart refrigerators can already list the products inside. In 2021, Haier introduced an “Internet of Food” smart fridge that can determine an item’s location and its freshness. The fridge includes facial and voice recognition to identify family members and their preferences.
Samsung’s Family Hub, another Internet of Things-enabled refrigerator, was first released in 2016. Its sensors allow you to view what’s in your fridge from your phone while you’re at the store.
The technology is well-established, and the future promises the connection and interdependence of these experiences—purchasing outside of the home and enjoying in the home.
What it means for your business
- A network of trusted ecosystems: In order for my fridge to connect to my smartphone and to notify Walmart (or another retailer) that I already have milk or spinach or to offer me a discount on an Amazon Prime movie rental when I buy a bottle of wine, the companies behind these devices will need to be in open and continuous communications. Your customers won’t care about the reason your phone isn’t on the same network as their favorite store, they’ll notice whether the whole experience works or it doesn’t. This must be supported by partnerships between companies that enable seamless transactions. Haier recognizes that users are beginning to demand cross-industry holistic solutions and has developed criteria for brands to work together in an ecosystem.
- The death of industries as we know them: In the future, household appliances will not be able to exist separately from telecommunications devices nor retail from home entertainment. The boundaries will blur as more industries evolve or link together. The Walmart video shows the shopper using “Walmart Pay” instead of a traditional bank and both Walmart and Amazon have expressed building up their own digital currencies. Rather than focusing on a distinct industry category, focus on scenarios when customers will use the product or service. What partnerships or ecosystems may create a more seamless or enhanced experience?
- In-depth knowledge of your customers, at home: Futurist Faith Popcorn has long predicted the spread of “cocooning.” In 1981, she foreshadowed that consumers would protect themselves from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world by spending more time in their homes. This presents a challenge and an opportunity to identify your customers’ needs and preferences and how you might develop an experience to fulfill them. What will they need to make their home experience easier, better, faster, and more pleasurable? What information or data do you need to collect to clarify that vision—and how will you gather it from afar?
Someday soon, rather than stopping at the store to retrieve last-minute items before a storm, I’ll be safely at home with a headset or similar device, browsing aisles virtually. My smart, IoT refrigerator will flag and remove duplicate items, remind me what else I need, and even suggest recipes or cooking demonstrations for me to follow.
My smart kitchen will know to preheat my oven to the right temperature, so that when a self-driving car, drone, or robot drops the groceries at my door, I’ll wrap up playing a game with my son and have dinner ready in minutes, accompanied by a salad from my own vertical garden and dessert 3D-printed from the previous night’s food waste. In the background, a web of ecosystem partners will be woven to get to know me and my family and to deliver what we need, regardless of product/service industry barriers or where we might be located.
The separate technologies are already in use today. Once they are connected, the applications are limitless.