Metaverse… Chinese web marketplaces… Web3…

It all sounds so far away. SHIFT sponsor salesforce pulled all these tech phenomena together in a mixed-theme panel session which concluded that the Internet is on the cusp of a complete reboot.


Lauren Hallanan described how a middle-aged Chinese woman uses Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, to buy her fruit and vegetables. Smiles among the audience. A quarter of an hour later, Nino Bergfeld talked about his first experiences with the early Internet: the screech and whistle of a dial-up modem, the eternal wait for a website to load, line by slow line, just to read a piece in a favorite newspaper on screen. More smiles. Sometimes things from the past and from the future can both seem equally strange.

Of course, the question is how many of China’s Web habits the West will––or wants to––embrace, and which habits those will be. One thing is certain: the behavior of Chinese consumers can teach us a whole lot about how to carve out positions on the online markets of the future.

Hallanan has not only lived in China for eight years; she has also spent the whole of her career to date in amassing expertise in the Chinese market. As she expressed it,

“It’s been incredible how the Chinese population has gone from low internet penetration to skipping over desktop devices, going straight to mobile devices. This has led to the creation of an entirely different ecosystem, where 99 percent of Chinese internet users are on a mobile device, and have it on at all times. It’s so natural to them.”

The salesforce expert talked about online marketplaces where customers create an avatar as their visual twin, wearing the clothes that can be purchased there, snapping selfies, and interacting with friends. Hallanan’s name for this is “gamified loyalty,” creating pleasure for flesh-and-blood customers. However, she also noted that a smartphone is required for virtually all forms of access in the physical world ––quite literally; a store changing cubicle will stay firmly shut without a smartphone to serve as its key.

Many functions, like Bluetooth tracking, are “pretty scary,” particularly for European customers, said Munich-based Nino Bergfeld, Director für Retail Advisory at salesforce. He pointed out that low-level incentives to use a smartphone can significantly smooth the way to connecting online and offline worlds, and that this is often something customers welcome.

What about high-tech bells and whistles? Well, perhaps those too. But in the second part of his talk, Bergfeld revealed the full significance of those small-scale virtual worlds. The metaverse is a kind of universe right after the Big Bang, expanding at lightning speed and growing visibly day by day. Every day a stream of companies enters the metaverse as part of Web3, the third-generation Internet. Around half of Generation Z visits at least one metaverse daily, said Bergfeld.

Web3 not only enables users to “own” virtual objects like the very first tweet posted on Twitter, purchasing them like works of art. It also creates a more decentralized, fairer Internet. “This makes it more interesting for brands and retailers,” explained Bergfeld, describing the current hot topic of NFTs as having “incredible power” in the context of brands and retail because they strengthen customer retention. While customer retention may no longer be the right term now that users can be “intrinsically involved,” the effort pays off. “Gucci has already earned a few million with virtual sun eyewear and handbags, while 30,000 NFTs brought Adidas revenues of 23 million in just one day,” said Bergfeld.

He described airdrops as “the new email,” the new way of coming into contact with customers. An airdrop can be, say, a token deposited in the user’s virtual wallet––with the benefit of physical anonymity compared to earlier forms of internet purchasing.

In a nutshell, a complete parallel world of business is emerging in which retailers can operate, but which also interacts with the physical world. A giant playground. And a playground that should not be ignored in the future.

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