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INVISION MAGAZINE: Is Eyecare Ready for the Metaverse?

Charlene Nichols, Founder of Omniverse City, shows off her Metaverse
Omniverse City

WEB3 AND VR TECHNOLOGY promise to revolutionize patient care, eyewear and the customer experience in ways we’re only beginning to understand. INVISION goes total immersion and jumps into the brave new world of the metaverse.

Welcome to the metaverse! Or at least one possible — admittedly optical-centric — glimpse of what it might look and feel like. If not all of the scenarios described above are possible in 2023, it’s fair to say they are at least plausible based on current plans, innovations and trends.

First of all, let’s deal with the word itself. There’s a tendency to equate “metaverse” with a certain tech behemoth, but in this article we’re referring not to Facebook/Meta’s latest business model, but the concept of a virtual, fully immersive digital environment that allows users to interact with each other and with digital objects in real-time. Currently, there are many metaverses in development, but the idea is that they will eventually merge into a single global virtual world.

You may be thinking: “Video games, right? Thanks, but I’ll pass.” The gamified, immersive playground familiar to fans of Second Life, World of Warcraft and Minecraft is certainly a feature of the metaverse, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Arriving along with the VR goggles and digital avatars — and all their implications for the consumer and patient experience — are a host of new technologies and protocols that will radically alter the way we experience and interact with payment systems, insurance, medical education, fashion, lens and eyewear design, inventory, management and patient care — basically every aspect of this very complex industry.

A snapshot of a 3D virtual recreation of Marcolin’s production facilities.

Curiosity… and Fear

When we reached out to INVISION’s Brain Squad of eyecare business owners and managers to get their thoughts and questions about the metaverse, they expressed curiosity and excitement, but also bewilderment and even fear. “I’m sure VR and AR will be integrated into our field,” wrote one. “I can’t see how just yet and frankly, I don’t want to do so right now. I am still old school. I hope it waits until I retire.” But like it or not, the metaverse is already making inroads into the public imagination, and the infrastructure is taking shape. According to industry trends analyst Gartner, by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, and social and/or entertainment activities.

The eyewear and eyecare industries are already taking their place in this environment, so we think it’s time you at least get the lay of the land.

So far, much of what has already been developed in terms of metaverse presence exists at the industrial and B2B levels. Writing on the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Annual Meeting blog, Nokia chief strategist Nishant Batra wrote, “Many new factories exist just as much in the digital world as they do in the physical, allowing operators to visualize operations down to the smallest detail.” Italian eyewear maker Marcolin is already there, having created a 3D virtual “twin” of its Fortogna production facility so that it can be explored by trainee employees wearing VR headsets. But a consumer-facing metaverse is also emerging — if you have a virtual try-on option on your website, you’ve got a toe in it already. This is the interactive, virtual technology our Brain Squad respondents were most familiar with, though some pointed out that carrying unique frames from independent designers makes this harder to implement. “I know that virtual inventory and try-on is engaging for the patient,” says Lisa Smith of Precision Eyecare in Vancouver, WA, while expressing concern that, “I still have not found an easy way to incorporate that to my website because of the independent brands we carry.”

*BLOCKCHAIN is a technology that allows digital information to be stored simultaneously, and updated synchronously, across a distributed network. It’s a bit like the text in a Google Doc that’s being worked on by a team, all of whom are constantly synced. The analogy ends there though, because unlike Google Docs, blockchain enables networked computing in the absence of any central authority or platform (such as Google) controlling everything.

Before we go much further, this might be a good place to address exactly what we mean when we talk about eyewear in the metaverse. If you’re hazy on this, it’s not just you. “I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the metaverse,” says Travis LeFevre of Krystal Vision & LFVR Eyewear in Logan, UT. “In a virtual world why would virtual people need glasses?” These will be elaborated on individually later, but in the metaverse, people are virtually trying on and purchasing real frames; buying digital frames for avatars as part of digital wardrobes that can be “worn” across platforms; seeking help with fit and Rx issues arising from wearing their glasses under VR or AR glasses; and ordering prescription lenses for VR/AR goggles that support them.

‘The Optical Metaverse’ founder Charlene Nichols conducts a guided tour of the platform’s immersive Exhibit Hall.

Meet Me in the Metaverse…

One type of platform luring consumers is virtual shopping centers or marketplaces such as Sandbox, Decentraland and Somnium Space. Nicolas Arreste, co-founder of BEGOOD Creative Marketing Agency, which helps businesses, including eyecare practices, establish themselves in the digital space, believes the metaverse is a natural fit for eyecare and urges ECPs to explore it. He told INVISION, “We’ve seen many e-commerce brands open retail storefronts in the metaverse equipped with what you would find in a true, physical retail environment, including customer support personnel and the option to purchase products. Eyecare practices should use this as a guide to reach new eyewear customers. As technology transitions to Web3, a decentralized environment that will most likely enable better PHI protections, eyecare practices could benefit greatly from the metaverse by opening virtual practices.”

Bear in mind that at this point, not all metaverse experiences are totally immersive or necessitate VR goggles. As an entry point for eyewear businesses, Arreste suggests a 2D virtual platform — still fully digital and interactive, using avatars — like “Metaverse users will be able to try a practice’s eyewear virtually and order on the spot,” he says. “This can increase eyewear sales and overall brand awareness, which could lead to an increase in patient visits.”

One platform targeted directly at ECPs is The Optical Metaverse. Pitched by founder Charlene Nichols as an immersive virtual trade show, networking and educational space, the platform hosted the Optical Metaverse Fashion Show in July. Participants chose an avatar before entering the space and could then check out scheduled, streamed webinars on eyewear and eyecare related topics, head into dedicated booths to virtually try on eyewear and chat with representatives of participating eyewear brands such as David Green Eyewear, Kirk & Kirk and Kazoku Lunettes, wander around a central exhibition space and more. Participants also had the opportunity to approach and chat with each other. The overall impression was more of forward-looking pioneers feeling their way around a new world than of a bustling trade venue, but it certainly offered a glimpse of what the future may hold and seemed to have come a long way technologically since an early version INVISION checked out in 2022.

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