Future shops to look like Second Life

Second Life avatars - the future of shopping?
Second Life avatars - the future of shopping?

Strap on your virtual genitalia and head down to the shops - Second Life is set to revolutionise online shopping, according to one academic.

Esther Swilley, a professor of marketing at Kansas State University, says consumers can expect that some of the disadvantages of online shopping will disappear as retailers adapt models from Second Life.

Swilley reckons that the future of online shopping will borrow from Second Life, meaning that a shopper could send his or her avatar to a virtual store.

"Your avatar could move through the store and pick up items," Swilley says. "You could even have it put on a shirt and look at it in the mirror before ordering it. Retailers like this because they could see how well items do in their virtual stores."

Closed shop

However, Swilley says that when well known, trusted retailers have tried selling products in Second Life, they haven't fared well.

"People in Second Life didn't like it," Swilley says. "If you're a person using Second Life, you're more likely to purchase products from another avatar rather than an outside retailer. It's almost like participants think, 'This is our world. Stay out of it.'"

Swilley says that mobile phones and other handheld devices are another world where people have been reluctant to let in retailers and marketers.

"That's why marketers are looking models where if you want ads on your phone, you could pay less for your phone service. For instance, while your phone is dialing, the background could be an ad."

What do you think? Do you really want an immersive 3D experience when browsing for battery chargers? And would you accept more ads if it brought your phone bill down?

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.