Yesterday I received news that a new company had opened up shop in Second Life. And this time it really is shop, as not merely opening up a presence, but opening up a retail point. Today I went in for a visit. The shop we're talking about is a French Multimedia and Electronics store named Boulanger
The island is a single, isolated one, not connected to the popular mainland shopping areas, so probably they're not counting on casual passersby noticing the shop while strolling through busy mainland malls where I had expected it to be. When we look at the build, it's of pretty good design and quality, better than that of most mainland stores, but when it comes to sales, it's all about content.
Dancing on the Ceiling
Upon arrival I see the usual jumble outside. Again, it is of good quality, but you'ld expect nothing less from a build which has been done by IBM. However, I was under the impression I came to shop, so I wasn't really dressed up to go racing in VW Beetles, flying helicopters and do a Lionel Ritchie kind of Dancing on the Ceiling. If I was looking for virtual entertainment, I'd probably do it elsewhere (unless they would come up with a very good mixed reality mix, but no festivities were going on)
Let's have a look at the aims of this build.
The French retail company Boulanger announced today the opening of a store in Second Life with development and planning help from IBM Research and Global Business Services. The goal is to complement Boulanger's physical stores and website with an additional distribution channel and additional services. Initially the build allows users to view and interact with Boulanger objects in a familiar context, click to be taken to the purchase page on a website, watch service and repair videos, or talk directly to a maintenance aide.
IBM says it had two objectives in the build: "develop a community aspect through the 3D universe and propose new services (configuration of kitchen, cooking lessons, guides, etc.) -- while integrating the three complementary distribution channels."
So far retail hasn't really taken off as a use for virtual worlds, particularly with big pricetag items like Boulanger's specialties of "leisure, multimedia and households products." The relatively high barrier to entry for Second Life (I had to download a new version after clicking on the SLURL from the press release) doesn't help much either.
Full story on Virtual World News.
True, I'd been entering Second Life for the past months with an outdated SL client, the version released in march 2008 and had been able to hover around without forced updates uptill now. This due to the fact that the previous latest client had problems with several graphical cards. Fortunately, this latest version worked fine though.
Real Life Replica
When looking at the general build and layout of the island it is very real-life-ish in look and feel, and the last of the above pictures shows a rotating cube displaying the locations of the Real Life Boulanger stores. Time to head on to the main venue.
The frustrating thing was, it had closed doors. I had a hard time finding a way in, which I believe should not be part of the proposed new services. The store itself looked rather empty. Rather than that it was actually empty, it also felt empty.
Let's be honest, the store just opened up. It will take some time to make stuff available through this sales channel, so maybe that issue will be cleared. Nonetheless, I doubt if it will be a profitable saleschannel in the near future. Truth is, Virtual Worlds like Second Life are still a niche market, especially when you only focus on the French speaking world.
Let's get down to business
At one point in the main venue, a gigantic layout of one of their real life stores hovered, and this is where a Business Case could have been made for operating an outfit in a Virtual World.
I would have very much appreciated an island with no social decoration, no immersive experience helicopters and just a naked empty store if it would have been a clear training and R&D site. What I mean is this:
If you build huge real life store with tons of products it takes a massive amount of design and calculation to sort out what the best routes are. Where do you place your products, how wide should the aisles be. How do you position your products. Which ones do you single out and promote to your shoppers.
With IBM's knowledge and expertise to do tracking & tracing in Second Life (see Wimbledon for instance) they could have made the build an experiment in logistics. They could have build a user testsite in which they could track customers to see where they would be going first. To see what the patterns arewhich customers are walking through a store of this size, or what the best logistic routes would be for employees to refill shelves with products from the storage in order to improve planning, logistics and real life sales.
Labels: business case, entertainment, mixed reality, music, retail, shopping, virtual entertainment