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Is $5 Trillion Metaverse Driving Sustainable Consumption?

E-commerce is the biggest economic factor driving the growth of a metaverse market that McKinsey pegs at $5 trillion in value, according to research the consulting firm published this month that pitched Web3 shopping as a $2.6 trillion opportunity, far outpacing virtual learning ($270 billion) and gaming ($125 billion).

“While the idea of connecting virtually has been decades in the making, it is now increasingly real, meaning real people are using it and spending real money and companies are betting big,” said McKinsey & Company senior partner Lareina Yee. “Yet this booming interest has made it difficult to separate hype from reality. It’s worth remembering that while the bust of the first dot-com boom resulted in the disappearance of scores of companies, the internet itself went from strength to strength, giving rise to new entrants.”

McKinsey’s findings suggest corporate leaders are sitting up and pay attention to the internet’s next evolution, especially as 59 percent of surveyed consumers say they prefer some metaverse experiences to their real-world counterparts—with shopping leading at 79 percent.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of business executives believe the metaverse will “fundamentally” evolve how their companies operate, while the vast majority (95 percent) believe Web3 will positively impact their sector in five to 10 years. Of note, one-quarter believe the metaverse will drive 15 percent of their company’s total growth within five years.

And now additional research suggests a correlation between eco-conscious shoppers and the metaverse.

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Consumers who make sustainable product choices in their daily lives are more than twice as likely as less conscious consumers to shop in the digital realm. That’s according to insights from e-commerce firm Productsup, which surveyed nearly 5,700 respondents in the U.S. and Europe about their commerce experiences. “It’s important not to overlook how eco-conscious consumers feel about shopping in the metaverse,” according to the Commerce Shortfall Report, which examined the shoppers’ pain points in the current retail landscape.

More than 88 percent cited the importance of purchasing based on a product’s environmental impact, and these consumers indicated a higher affinity for the metaverse. About half said they would be likely to purchase life-like virtual experiences in the metaverse. A near-equal number cited practical factors like faster returns and quicker fulfillment as reasoning for their interest in shopping virtually.

Respondents are looking for hybrid experiences that merge digital, physical and virtual commerce, according to the report. Forty-seven percent said they were interested in transacting in the metaverse and then receiving a physical product by mail, while 43 percent said they would buy products that exist only virtually. Nearly as many shoppers (42 percent) said they would prefer to buy a combination of real-life and digital goods.

It’s likely that shopping experiences that blend the virtual and the physical will have the greatest impact with shoppers, according to the report. Examples might include AI and virtual reality (VR) filters that allow consumers to visualize products in real life spaces using their smartphones (42 percent) or a branded app that provides product information while shopping in store (47 percent). More than two-fifths of survey-takers said in-store augmented reality (AR), like mirrors that provide a virtual try-on experience, would compel them to make a purchase. H&M debuted such technology at its Beverly Hills store earlier this month.

These types of tools can ultimately aid shoppers in making more informed choices, according to the report. Technology provides access to product specs, from provenance to fiber profiles, certifications and care instructions—information that 46 percent of respondents said they want. More than one-third (34 percent) suggested using QR codes on packaging that link to these details. An equal number said that side-by-side comparisons of products’ sustainability credentials would be helpful. Meanwhile, AR/VR can help consumers visualize products on their bodies or in their homes, leading to greater satisfaction and a lower rate of returns.

“To meet consumer expectations, companies need to deliver experiences tailored to where consumers shop—in-store, online, and soon, in the metaverse,” the report said, citing “plenty of room for this new commerce space to adapt, shaping consumer expectations as it grows.”