Recent events have put the topic of digitalization in the focus of society once more. The pandemic did not only boost the success of online based businesses, it also showed us how many companies were still lacking in implementing digitization tools and strategies. At the same time, terms like the metaverse and m-commerce are being mentioned more and more and are being presented as the future of technology and economy. What is the current state of digitalization, and how relevant are the metaverse or m-commerce really?
The State of Digitalization
Currently, there are two ideas in play that are contrasting each other: We are simultaneously talking about the lack of digitalization strategies being put into practice by smaller and mid-sized companies, and how the world is ready for the metaverse, a radical new step of merging our world with digital spaces.
Good Chances for Digitally Mature Companies
With the start of the pandemic and its lockdowns, we learned just how unprepared many companies were for the challenges of remote work. From one day to another, they had to find solutions that included protected remote network access and communication tools like web-meeting platforms. Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) still lack digital maturity. Observing the success of digitally intensive businesses over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that SMEs will need digital tools to become more resilient and get a chance to grow.
There are many examples of online based businesses that have made huge leaps in revenue since the pandemic started. Naturally, this includes e-commerce solutions like Amazon. But other businesses, like online gambling, have fared just as well, expanding to countless new offers. You just need to take a look at services like the Casinomeister review website and the many online casinos listed there that have grown more and more successful during the last few years.
Metaverse – The Next Step of Digitalization
Clearly, online businesses, especially those providing a service that is usually found in the real world, are the economical winners of the pandemic. In a strange turn of events, we can also see the opposite happening. Online businesses have become so successful, that they are invading the analogue world. We can recognize this process in the ’amazonification’ of grocery stores. This is the kind of progress the metaverse is aiming at.
The term has become the center of attention after Mark Zuckerberg announced his support of the concept, re-naming the company behind Facebook to Meta. It describes the merging of our analogue world with virtual spaces.
Once more, the pandemic led to first signs of the metaverse emerging. When we take part in online meetings, we are already experiencing the simplest version of the metaverse. We are using a virtual space to handle real life matters. If we start to imagine this virtual space as a place we ‘enter’ to meet virtual representations of our colleagues, it becomes closer to what the metaverse is supposed to become.
Typically, the following factors apply to the concept:
- Persistence | The metaverse does not end, reset, or pause.
- Synchronous & Live | The metaverse is a living experience that exists consistently & in real-time.
- Giving Users a Presence | Users have an individual presence (avatar) in the metaverse and have individual agency to ‘go’ to places and take part in activities.
- Functioning Economy | Users can buy, create and own items with value recognized by others.
- Spanning Both the Physical & Digital Word | Both the physical and digital worlds will interact and influence each other.
- Interoperability of Data/Digital Items and so on | Items bought in one medium can be used in another (for example, skins bought for weapons in different video games).
- Created, Filled and Operated by a Wide Range of Contributors | The content and experiences of the metaverse will be created by independent individuals just as much as commercially focused enterprises or informally organized groups.
Representations of what this digital universe we can ‘enter’ and move around in could look like can be found in many pieces of media. In Ready Player One (2018), based on the book with the same name from 2001, the characters can enter a game world and move around freely. In the video game Second Life (2003), we are invited to create an avatar we can use to meet and interact with other people online. In this case, there are already shops of famous brands like Adidas available for purchases in the game, making it the earliest usable example of the metaverse.
M-Commerce – Reaching the Metaverse in Baby Steps
The metaverse is still a concept in progress. We do not have the technology or organizational structures in place to establish such a widespread service. However, like we already mentioned, there are some examples we can already make use of.
Next to the establishment of web-meeting platforms, the pandemic has pushed other metaverse elements. Since many customers would not leave their home or could not access stationary stores, these companies had to find ways to make themselves accessible using other methods.
Some companies, like clothing or furniture stores, have created virtual dressing rooms or the ability to use AR (augmented reality) technology to test how their items would look in our real-world environment. The IKEA Place app uses a tablet’s camera to display a room and place a digital representation of a piece of furniture of our choice where we want it.
Another piece of the metaverse building foundation is the general concept of m-commerce. While e-commerce describes shopping electronically in general, m-commerce (mobile commerce) is specifically aimed at mobile devices. It could be described as a store, right in your pocket. Wherever you go, the retail outlet is right there with you and can always be ‘visited’ and used to buy items. While we are used to this service by now, it already moves us much closer to the potential coming of the metaverse.
While the pandemic has shown that digitalization isn’t at its desired point when it comes to small and midsized companies, we can see the importance of digital tools in those online based businesses that have increased their revenue since the first lockdowns started. Governments have created funding, specifically aimed at helping businesses stay competitive and put digital tools in play.
At the same time, the bigger and more digitally mature companies are already working on the next steps. The metaverse, a digital world we can enter and use similarly to our own, is the next big goal on the digitization timeline. While we do not yet have the technology to create the metaverse, we are already seeing many little signs that lead in its direction.