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Virtual worlds & ecommerce

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Tuesday June 12, 2007 )

The population of virtual worlds such as Second Life have been engaging in a form of in-house ecommerce for quite a while. Some retailers are now going a step further, taking the plunge into using virtual worlds to create stores within these worlds in the hope of driving real-dollar sales.

Second Life is a very popular online destination, with over 7 million members. In the “game”; you establish an avatar, which is a character representing yourself. You can then clothe the character according to your tastes. From there, you’re all set to explore the massive world, teleporting from place to place and meeting other players.

The currency of Second Life is the Linden dollar. You purchase Linden dollars from the company behind Second Life, Linden Labs. The dollars can then be spent on virtual items other players have up for sale, or to purchase your own slice of Second Life land upon which you can build a house.. or store. Some Second Lifers are making a nice living from the sale of virtual items and Second Life created its first millionaire, Anshe Chung, in late 2006 (that’s an amazing story in itself).

Retailers including Reebok and Adidas have begun establishing stores within Second Life that mimic their bricks and mortar stores where players can create, buy (or get for free) virtual shoes. It’s somewhat of a branding exercise for these retailers at present, but some are also including direct links to real products on their web sites that can then be purchased in the “real” online world.

I’ve dabbled in Second Life a few times – it’s not really my scene and I found it rather confusing when it came to acquiring items and frustratingly slow… but that’s much like the World Wide Web was generally back in the late 90’s when ecommerce was still in its infancy. Second Life has only been in operation since 2003.

Could virtual worlds such as Second Life may be the wave of the future rather than just a niche? Might we all log on each day to our little slice of a virtual world and venture forth in our online travels from there?

Perhaps, especially if some of the traditional elements of social networks were integrated and players could move between worlds owned by different companies with ease. This is a concept I call “Synapse” that I might write a little more on in the future. It will be an important leap for ecommerce, social networks and virtual worlds alike; breaking down barriers between services. We live in a physical world of borders – between countries, states and continents; the online world doesn’t need to be the same.

Anyhow, I’m getting a little off track.. if your products and services appeal to a young and hip crowd; check out this article from the NY Times for more information on virtual world ecommerce. Even if your target market isn’t this group; it’s an interesting read that may provide a glimpse of the not-too-distant future of online business.

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