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‘Beware of the hype’: The General Store CEO Matt Newell talks metaverse

An award-winning creative agency, The General Store has counselled retailers on shaping holistic customer experiences since 2012. Retail in Asia speaks with Matt Newell, CEO at The General Store and a keynote speaker at the recently concluded eTail Australia Event, on how brands and companies can approach Web3 and the virtual economy.

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RiA: Tell us about your discussion on the ‘State of the Meta Nation: The What, Why, Who and How’.

Newell: The keynote provided a reality check on virtual worlds. Web3 has been hit by the hype curve pretty hard. First it was hot and now it’s cold. But I think it’s important we remove the emotion and analyse the pros and cons of the channel. We covered the size of the Virtual Economy, who’s participating in it, who’s investing in it, who’s winning and who’s losing. I’m hoping we can cut through the hype and see it for what it is.

RiA: There is plenty of buzz around the metaverse and how it will impact brands. Do you think the buzz is warranted? Should every single brand explore Web3?

Newell: Yes, there’s plenty of buzz – both positive and negative. I’m always intrigued by how humans like to form such strong views on things. Web3 is interesting because it’s powerful tech, but it’s neither inherently good nor inherently bad. It all comes down to whether it’s the right tool for your application.

No, it’s not right for every single brand. But I think every brand should be informed on it.

RiA: What recent brand entries into the metaverse have you found most interesting? What are they doing differently from the rest?

Newell: What’s interesting is the different kinds of brands that are entering the metaverse in different ways, depending on what their customer bases are like. Some are starting to experiment and are at the beginning of their journey into the metaverse. For example, late last year, The Iconic held a physical fashion show to celebrate its new collection, Runway X, then auctioned off an NFT, which the winner then used to receive a seasonal styling session and wardrobe refresh on The Iconic, twice a year, for the next decade.

Source: The Iconic/courtesy The General Store 

In comparison, there’s Gucci, which has done a deep investment into the metaverse and launched games on Roblox including Gucci Garden and Gucci Town. It also partnered with e-sports platform FACEIT and the WHO to launch Gucci Gaming Academy, a coaching program to support up-and-coming e-sport talent, focusing on education and mental health.

Source: Gucci/courtesy The General Store

It’s not just fashion brands that have entered the metaverse either. Starbucks launched a Web3 experience called Starbucks Odyssey for its loyalty members in December last year. Through Starbucks Odyssey, members can collect NFTs and points so they can access exclusive benefits and experiences. Think virtual espresso-martini making courses, unique merchandise, artist collaborations, exclusive events at Starbucks Reserve roasteries or even trips to the Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm in Costa Rica.

RiA: Why do you think brands should be excited about the metaverse?

Newell: For the right kinds of brands with younger demographics, the metaverse is all about community and giving your customers the opportunity to deeply immerse themselves and engage within your world. But again, brands need to make sure that the metaverse aligns with their customers and overall strategies before investing in it.

RiA: As CEO of a retail strategy and innovation agency, you’ve had to explain the metaverse to a fair share of brands and retailers. Are there any misconceptions about the metaverse that you want to debunk?

Newell:  Beware of the hype. The metaverse is neither inherently good or bad. It’s just another tool in our toolbox. Used well, it can be amazing. Use it poorly, it can be a waste of money and time.

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RiA: What key trends in the metaverse should we look forward to in 2023?

Newell: At the moment, the metaverse is the domain of the gaming community, so I’m interested to see how the metaverse evolves beyond that and enters the physical world.

There could be a world where Web3 comes to life and helps organise real-world communities, like CityDao in the US. CityDao is trying to create a space consisting of a digital representation of physical land, which they currently own in Wyoming. They’re trying to sell the governance of this land to other people, who would purchase it through an NFT so they can then become ‘citizens’ and can vote on what happens to it. It’s controversial but really fascinating.