Shopping in a virtual world

04 Apr

Back in a previous life when I worked at a large Internet company, I was the design project manager on a couple of ecommerce projects.  We worked very carefully on the interface design and user experience, trying to organize the sites to appeal to shoppers whether they preferred to browse or search, to look for bargains and specials or rely on user ratings.  We ran focus groups and did beta testing.

In Second Life, anyone can open a store. Any resident can sell things he makes in the SL Marketplace, a rudimentary database-style site, and it’s no more difficult to open an inworld store. The most basic is a yard sale: a plot of land with cheap items for sale or resale arrayed on the ground. There are malls and shopping centers, cart sales and auctions, large stores with multiple floors or buildings and tiny boutiques.  However, there is no standard layout.  Each proprietor organizes his store according to his own aesthetic, technical ability, and thoughts about the best way to feature his products.

I’m going to share some examples of stores where female clothing is sold. There are a lot of photos, so be sure to click “Read the rest of this entry” below to open the full post. I included my avatar in most images for scale.

This store below was the first that got me thinking about inworld store layout.  The owner chose to create a store that looks like it could exist in the offline world, perhaps as the bargain basement of a department store or an overstock outlet.



This style of store is easiest to shop by walking through it.  You could stand in one spot and move your camera to browse the racks, but the clothing displays are at different angles that make camming around more difficult.  Take a look at the rack of jackets in the image above as they appear from the side:


Also, there are no models or photographs of the clothing being worn, so unless you try a demo version of each product (if available), it can be hard imagine how it might fit: how long a skirt is, if a neckline is revealingly low, etc.  I thought the store was nice to look at but not good for shopping, so I went to a few other stores to think more about their methods.

A completely different experience is a store that only uses a vendor system.  Vendors can display a large number of products in a small space, making them useful for sellers who don’t want to pay a lot of rent. Vendors are often used in kiosks at shopping centers and themed fairs, where a seller may want to display a subset of the products available in his main store. I find vendors the least compelling type of online shopping layout, but they are efficient.


Stores that exploit altitude to display products are strangely rare, though I have two examples in this post. At the store below, each product has a square display with a photo and informative text.  The walls stretch high into the sky and there is no conventional store layout.  I find the best way to browse here is to fly around until I find a section I want to explore more closely, then I hover in place and use my camera to explore the walls.  This can certainly be overwhelming.



When a store has a more conventional real world layout, I may walk, fly, or cam around to explore.  I tend to cam around stores that are very large or very busy, because it is faster and easier.  Sometimes the store will provide a cozy couch for my avatar to have a seat and a cup of coffee while I have the disem-virtual-bodied experience of camming through the rest of the store.  Note that in the store below, the seller has a display of each outfit on a model as well as hanging racks displaying the various patterns/colors that are included. I find that really useful.


Another women’s store uses a mix of display types: images, hanging racks, tables, live models, and mannequins. Because of the angles and curves of this store, it’s easiest to walk around rather than use a camera, but the product displays are clear enough that you can browse at a distance rather than poke into every nook.


They recently added a rotating 3D spotlighted display, which is very effective for showing how pieces of a new suit layer together.


The last type of store I wanted to share is one where the layout is a reflection of the offbeat, fun, strange nature of the products sold.  It may not be easy to browse through the products, but if you’re looking for quirky goth or costume items, you might appreciate watching penguins plot world domination in the middle of the sales floor…


or enjoy riding the grocery cart roller coaster though the store.


It would be fascinating to study store configuration in comparison to traffic, percentage of visitors who buy, repeat visitors and buyers, and overall sales figures, but unless one seller opened multiple test locations, that data couldn’t be abstracted from factors like price, product offering, the number of people who already have landmarks (links) to the store, and more.

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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Embodied Experience, Side Topics


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