If you’ve been on Twitter in the last couple days you may have come across this viral Tweet: “This is how Walmart envisions Shopping in the Metaverse,” tweeted @DigitalisHomo on January 3, along with a two-minute video of a virtual shopping experience in a Walmart store. While Walmart hasn’t launched a virtual storefront—the video was originally created in 2017 as a virtual reality demo for the Texas-based festival South by Southwest—the day you can actually peruse a pixelated shelf to pick a wine pairing for your dinner might not be too far off.
Virtual reality isn’t new, but in recent years, gaming with VR headsets has become more popular—and as technology advances, so have new opportunities for how we use virtual reality. In 2014, Facebook put its stake in the VR world after acquiring the virtual reality platform Oculus. In October 2021, after Facebook officially changed its company name to Meta, founder Mark Zuckerberg made some major announcements about its new direction. Most notably, Meta has shifted its focus from connecting people through social networking to connecting them in the Metaverse, a 3D virtual world where users can “socialize, learn, collaborate and play in ways that go beyond what we can imagine.”
Along with job interviews, meetings, and recreation, the Metaverse may also include e-commerce, as the Walmart demo predicts. Rather than going to a brick-and-mortar store to pick out items and haul them home, the Metaverse could allow users to simulate the same, embodied physical experience from their homes with VR headsets—digitally strolling through their favorite stores, then purchasing items for delivery.
The looming reality of a burgeoning Metaverse happens alongside some other major, tech-driven changes in the world of grocery shopping. Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, and now Prime users can order local, organic produce on the platform instead of venturing out to the store.
During the pandemic, all kinds of shopping—including grocery shopping—saw major shifts toward digital. Rather than visiting stores themselves, more and more people have relied on delivery services like Instacart and Shipt for kitchen essentials. Experts predict grocery shopping will continue to evolve as the pandemic surges, from increasingly fast app times to the use of supermarket-based ghost kitchens to increase revenue through takeout delivery apps. And amidst ongoing labor shortages, more and more stores are considering relying on self-checkout kiosks and aisle-scanning robots.
Opting into the Metaverse could create new pathways for grocery stores to address staff shortages and increased demand, while increasing revenue opportunities. Much like traditional online shopping, Metaverse commerce could capitalize on your data to optimize your experience— say, reminding you of items you may have forgotten, suggesting new products to try based on your previous purchases, or even suggesting the perfect bottle of Pinot to pair with your dinner.
To familiarize consumers with its products, Meta recently announced it’s planning to open physical storefronts where people can try out and buy virtual reality headsets. So far, there aren’t any grocery stores to browse—but some day in the future, you may be able to visit a Meta store to imagine what it’s like.