Meta is opening a physical retail store to promote the metaverse, a paradoxical move for a company set on an increasingly digital future.
Located on the tech company's campus in Burlingam, California, the location will stock a range of Meta-branded virtual reality devices including the Portal and Quest 2 VR headset, allowing people to try the gadgets out before investing in them.
Opening on May 9, the store will also offer test drives of Meta and Ray-Ban's collaborative smart glasses, though buyers will be redirected to Ray-Ban's website to actually purchase them.
"The Meta Store is going to help people make that connection to how our products can be the gateway to the metaverse in the future," Martin Gilliard, head of the Meta Store, said in an official announcement from the company. "We’re not selling the metaverse in our store, but hopefully people will come in and walk out knowing a little bit more about how our products will help connect them to it."
Meta's move makes sense from a practical standpoint (trying on a VR headset or making a Portal call in the flesh could certainly be the deciding factor for some metaverse-hesitant buyers), but it still strikes as antithetical to Mark Zuckerberg's enthusiastic embrace of virtual environments.
In fact, the announcement is a testament to the indispensability of physical retail, even as e-commerce sales grow.
Over the course of the pandemic, we've learned that video calls and other virtual interaction can augment face-to-face interaction. Still, there's no replacement for the physical presence of another human. Online shopping is similar — it expands consumer retail options, but the "add to cart" button doesn't convey the heft of a product, or the texture of its surface.
Try as Zuckerberg might, the metaverse can't replicate the tactile and emotional experiences that make life wonderful (at least not yet).