Facebook — sorry, it’s calling itself Meta now — is planning on dipping consumers’ toes in the so-called metaverse by launching retail stores to showcase AR and VR products, the New York Times reported on Friday.
According to the Times, “people with knowledge of the project” as well as internal company documents reviewed by the paper detail a plan to open a series of retail locations that will eventually expand into a worldwide chain of Meta stores. The plan is for the stores to showcase products manufactured by the company’s Reality Labs division, which currently makes virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Quest; CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes will it eventually manufacture things like augmented reality glasses as part of his multi-step plan to monetise and monopolize all human interaction. Fun!
The documents seen by the Times state the retail locations will aim to make the world “more open and connected” and outline a buzzwordy aesthetic of “curiosity, closeness” and of customers feeling “welcomed” on their “judgement free journey.” (One assumes you won’t actually be allowed to watch porn in the Meta store.) The papers outline designs for the stores that are “modern, with a flat, minimalist aesthetic to the building exteriors and subtle placement of the Facebook brand” — think an Apple store, but blue. According to the Times, the first Facebook Store would have been planned for Burlingame, California, where Reality Labs has an office, but the degree to which that plan has been acted on isn’t clear.
Zuckerberg has pitched the “metaverse” as the future of the company, referring to his belief that the future of the worldwide internet will be the kind of AR and VR environments imagined decades ago in speculative sci-fi like Snow Crash and Tron. The only problem with that is, dedicated AR and VR products are still expensive niche products largely focused on the high-end gaming market (it turns out phones are more convenient than wearing a clunky helmet), and even most VR gamers probably only use their headsets a few hours a month. Launching a chain of retail stores would be an opportunity to demo the technology to a wider audience, though it’s not clear why Meta would succeed in this respect where prior efforts like VR arcades have failed.
The Times wrote that the documents show the names Facebook Hub, Facebook Commons, Facebook Innovations, Facebook Reality Store, and From Facebook were considered, but Facebook Store is the current favourite. It’s possible that the Meta rebrand could affect the choice of name. The company has already announced its intent to rebrand the Oculus Quest headsets as Meta Quest, for example, and its well-received but poorly selling Facebook Portal video chat device as Meta Portal. There’s no word in the Times article on whether the decision to brand the store under the Facebook name may have be in limbo due to other little things, like the massive PR crises and leaks of damning internal documents that prompted the Meta rebrand in the first place.
In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, a Meta spokesperson said absolutely nothing useful about the reported plans to launch stores, adding only that “Quest 2 is in high demand and is available at our partner retailers along with our other hardware products, Ray-Ban Stories and Portal.”