A visitor plays a VR game at the exhibition area of HTC Corp during the 2022 World 5G Convention in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, in August. (Zhang Shu / For China Daily)
The metaverse is reshaping the operations and strategies of Chinese e-commerce platforms, as futuristic marketplaces are built that can better serve consumers' real and virtual needs, industry experts said.
Immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, which are vital for the creation of a virtual presence in the metaverse, have the potential to change the way people shop by creating simulations of merchandise and providing interactive consumer experiences, they added.
Chinese online retailer JD has launched a digital platform where shoppers can step into a virtual environment to view items such as furniture and household goods.
JD has cooperated with more than 1,000 brands and created 3D models for over 100,000 products, covering building materials, furniture, soft decorations, kitchenware and other household goods.
Alibaba's Tmall e-commerce platform has unveiled about 10,000 3D virtual "model houses" in collaboration with offline furniture retailers.
The models allow online customers to place virtual furniture in their homes to see how it looks without having to visit a store in person. Designers can also customize furniture and decorations according to a customer's preferences.
The metaverse promises a future where the virtual and physical worlds are inextricably interconnected, and China has rolled out favorable policies to better embrace the opportunities it presents. In November, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and several other ministries jointly released a plan to integrate VR technology into industrial applications.
The market size of China's VR industry will exceed 350 billion yuan ($50.9 billion) by 2026, according to the plan, and the country is aiming to nurture 100 enterprises with strong innovative capacity and industrial influence.
Authorities in Beijing, Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang have launched guidelines and action plans for the metaverse sector, hoping to gain an early advantage in the global race to benefit from the next generation of technology.
"The core value of the metaverse lies in its industrial use. E-commerce has served as a key application scenario for the metaverse, and a multitude of new business models have already emerged," said Yu Jianing, executive director of the metaverse industry committee at the China Mobile Communications Association, a Beijing-based industry association.
Yu said the application of VR and AR technologies to online marketplaces has not only improved consumers' experiences of remote shopping and boosted consumption during the pandemic, but also has spearheaded a new consumption trend.
Pointing to home decoration as an example, Yu said that with the help of metaverse-related technologies, consumers can experiment with putting furniture in different places, offering an immersive and interactive experience that makes the shopping process more convenient.
The metaverse will play an active role in empowering the real economy, and promoting in-depth integration of the digital world with the real world, Yu added.
Hong Yong, an associate research fellow at the Ministry of Commerce's e-commerce research department, said metaverse-related technologies will become important driving forces for the high-quality development of e-commerce. They will also help to further unleash the potential of consumption and bolster industrial upgrades.
Though still in its infancy, the metaverse, has brought new opportunities for China's consumer market, and has huge potential in propelling the development of customer services, logistics, finance and other industries, Hong said.