The rise of virtuality is one of the consequences of the pandemic and it is here to stay. We have learned to work virtually, we have meetings, we participate in conferences, seminars, we even create our own avatars in the metaverse to be able to live virtual experiences. But … to what extent can the sensory experience be lived in our new virtual worlds?
Deepak Chopra, who is a renowned writer recently mentioned that: “Our senses convert massless energy into sound and vibration, shape and solidity, texture and color, fragrance and taste.” The reality is that the senses belong to the human being as part of their identity and are what allow them to generate worlds of sensoriality, live multiple experiences and live sensations in such a way that they can identify products or services.
We are in a very important digital transformation that will continue to generate great advances at the level of experiences, and it is here where our senses will be the protagonists to make a difference in the new worlds and spaces such as the metaverse. Digital and virtual sensory experiences will provide a greater sense of immersion, improving consumer interactions with brands and their products.
Until now the five senses, sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell, have been a phenomenon of the physical and chemical world. However, we are seeing several innovative technologies that will allow us to change this situation and they are related to the fusion of the digital and the physical, a concept known as phygital. These technologies will allow us to have new sensory experiences in the metaverse. Next, we will see some examples of technologies that open the doors to new worlds of experiences with the senses.
Sight: 5G/6G technologies continue to evolve to offer much more defined images, wide fields of vision that transfer expressions and gestures of users to their increasingly elaborate and realistic-looking avatars. Augmented reality glasses are becoming lighter, smaller and easier to handle, allowing complete eye tracking, there are even contact lenses for a differential experience where companies such as Apple, Meta, Ray-Ban, Snap and Google show great advances.
Data from Facebook to 2023, reveal that 86% of people want immersive experiences and 74% say that augmented reality closes the GAP between online and offline. A “Retail Future Shopping” study reveals that 59% of people want to explore products through new technologies that feel real.
At the same time, according to a study by Kantar TNS, more than 80% of consumers are afraid of choosing the wrong beauty products, which is why they often seek advice, however, with the growth of e-commerce, companies are betting on getting closer to their potential consumers through augmented reality, since it attracts them in a more immersive way and in the metaverse they can capture details that they could observe in a store.
One example that shows brands are taking steps towards creating a metaverse brand environment, with virtual stores that are more immersive and compatible than traditional e-commerce channels is Harrods’ Dior Beauty virtual store. An experience with flowers sprouting from the ground, under a dome-shaped starry night sky, including 3D products and videos with interactive features.
Touch: It makes possible to capture a necessary dimension in the world of virtual experiences, determining factors such as affinity with a brand and their purchase intention, since the consumer seeks to try and feel beforehand. Tactile vibration is surprising us more and more with new releases of wearables such as gloves and suits, which use haptics to generate stimuli very similar to the real thing through interaction with the metaverse. Another type of tactile simulation is called force feedback, which combines robotics, triggers, and pads, which inflate and deflate to create pressure.
There are brands that have created various experiences through apps that allow product and makeup tests, skin diagnosis and color tests while providing personalized recommendations through screenshots or videos. The consumer can try a lipstick and experiment with different colors, choose the format, duration and tone of the makeup base. You can even try different shades of hair dyes and find the one that best matches your clothes and makes you feel the best.
Sound: Let’s imagine how the sliding of a cream on our skin sounds or what sensation the sound of the cellophane paper of the fragrances generates when we are opening the container. Hearing developments in the metaverse continue to evolve and are not only limited to external noise cancellations and the development of lighter and smaller wearables; the sound is integrated into other devices such as glasses where the sound vibration reaches the ear through the skull. Bone conduction speakers is a differential that avoids the use of headphones.
The MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – developed a prototype, AlterEgo, it is very innovative since it reads the signals from the muscles of the mouth without the need for a sound and translates it by means of a device generating an auditory stimulus in the metaverse. Today, if we also combine it with Artificial Intelligence, we can create virtual environments with an experience where consumers can hear the whispers of the people who interact with them.
Very interesting news were recently published. Scientists from Tel Aviv University have discovered that plants are capable of emitting sounds, especially in stressful situations, and have managed to record their acoustic responses. The study was published in the journal Cell and shows how the researchers recorded the ultrasonic sounds emitted by tomato and tobacco plants. They were placed in an acoustic chamber and their physiological parameters were observed. They also subjected them to dehydration and made cuts to check their reaction. These sounds are imperceptible to the human ear, but these ultrasonic frequencies can be detected by various kinds of animals at a distance of up to 5 meters. This find is sure to inspire sonic experiences in the metaverse.
Smell and Taste: Portable tools that combine different molecules to create and release odors are currently being developed, with the aim of complementing the experience through new scent cues. We can imagine that consumers enter a virtual store and perceive the same brand aroma that they are used to in physical stores in shopping centers. This is important for the brand experience because loyalty is maintained.
In taste field is where we can find fewer developments, but there are some that are truly disruptive. An article was recently published by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in USA, in which they explain the development of an accessory that can be connected to virtual reality glasses and then generate ultrasonic waves in the mouth, teeth, and tongue. These waves would simulate the contact of the object with the skin and can even reproduce the sensation of a kiss. These new technologies make the virtual experience much more immersive when living our lives in the metaverse, buying things, walking through the woods, experiencing products or simply feeling the breeze on our faces.
The development of new sensory technologies aims to make the virtual more real, capturing the attention of consumers and inviting them to spend more time in digital spaces, either out of curiosity or to live new experiences.
However, as well as the relationship with senses in a real environment, we should not underestimate the use of replicas in a virtual environment, since we can design experiences that are synergistic under the concept of sensory additivity, which will maximize perception. Otherwise, if the mix of stimuli is not properly done, we can produce sensory suppression. The cosmetics industry has a great opportunity to offer its consumers new shopping experiences that involve testing and sensory experiences in the metaverse, in such a way that they help brand positioning by generating emotional links.
Senior Exploration ScientistatBelcorp Colombia
John Jiménez is currently Senior Researcher at Belcorp Colombia. He is a Pharmacist (National University of Colombia) with a Master degree in Sustainable Development (EOI Business School, Madrid) and specialization studies in Marketing, Cosmetic Science and Neuromarketing. John has 28 publications in scientific journals and a book chapter in cosmetic formulation.
Maison G de Navarre Prize (IFSCC 2004), Henry Maso Award (IFSCC 2016) and best scientific papers at Colamiqc Ecuador 2009, Colamiqc Brazil 2013 and Farmacosmética Colombia 2014. He has been a speaker at various international conferences in Europe and Latin America and was President of Accytec Bogotá from 2017–2019.
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