This article was originally published in the Mastercard Newsroom by Elisabeth Riedl on September 27, 2021

Imagine you are having coffee with a friend in the park. She mentions a pair of sneakers she likes and suggests you might like them too. In an instant, a selection of sneakers flashes up into your peripheral vision. As the digital images float by, she details the style, allowing your AI assistant to fine-tune your selection. You see the sneakers she recommended but you don’t like some of the detailing. Your AI assistant copies them and open up your customizer.

With a simple swipe, you give your friend access and together you swap out the laces and tweak the color combination. With another gesture, you buy the sneakers — and purchase an NFT version to dress your holographic avatar. They’ll be delivered from the on-demand factory later in the week.

You say goodbye to your friend and tap your smart glasses to leave the park. But in fact, you never left your couch.

Welcome to the metaverse, a hybrid virtual-physical extension of our connected world. The metaverse uses augmented and mixed reality to create a 3D version of the internet.

“Mixed reality will be increasingly accessible to businesses and consumers, transforming our lives over the next few years,” says Keith Jordan, vice president of innovation at Mastercard’s Labs as a Service business. “We will move through these hybrid worlds with different experiences in different dimensions in a paradigm shift enabled by a tsunami of tech changes over the next decade.”

Previously, access to this world was restricted by the relatively high cost of entry and awkward, bulky interfaces that put off most consumers. While gamers have been early adopters and tolerated these shortcomings, they are still barriers to entry for many. The good news is that companies are working to eliminate the obstacles to mass market adoption. For example, Facebook’s Oculus Quest is establishing relatively affordable pricing. MetaVRse, a company with a mission to foster greater connectedness in the 3D internet world, provides a platform that makes it simpler to build coding-optional virtual experiences.

The most significant barrier remains the bulky hardware, but we can expect to see lighter, faster and smaller devices in the coming years.

“We will move through these hybrid worlds with different experiences in different dimensions in a paradigm shift enabled by a tsunami of tech changes over the next decade.”Keith Jordan

The increasing sophistication of several converging technologies is powering these possibilities. Cloud computing, 3D modeling, game design, and cloud mapping — a fast-evolving technology that allows computers to understand the shapes around them — are all contributing. The implications of this new world extend far beyond creating unique retail experiences — many believe mixed reality could change how we perceive the world around us.

Blending our physical and virtual worlds could significantly enrich our day-to-day experiences. The metaverse offers broader access to consumers than the material world does today. Take sporting events, for example. Over the past year, we have seen them gain virtual audiences attending games from their homes, regardless of location or time zone.

“There will be no differentiation between the digital world and the physical world. In the metaverse, time is irrelevant. These worlds never pause. They are always there,” said Alan Smithson, co-founder of MetaVRse, during a recent Clubhouse event.

Corporations have started to recognize these opportunities and are building out their capabilities in augmented and mixed reality. Not only are they developing devices to experience these worlds, they are creating libraries and assets for on-demand consumption. While the metaverse concept is still evolving, the global augmented and mixed reality industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 54% to reach $372 billion by 2026.

From these beginnings, we expect to see new forms of e-commerce emerge. Brands will offer their customers hyper-personalized experiences without worrying about the physical world’s many barriers. Individuals can choose how they want to experience the world, the games they wish to attend, the stores they want to shop in, anywhere and anytime. With these reality innovations, we are moving from simply telling stories to actually living inside them.