Virtually Retailing

March 12, 2007

The definition of retail utopia has to be a long line of eager cashed up customers, happy and eager staff, high profitability, and paying low rent in a great location. But how do you achieve it?

In our real world it may be difficult to reach this nirvana, but there may be another way and another place to do it.

Imagine a world where you can create and recreate your perfect retail environment until you’ve got it just right. Where your stock levels are always perfect. Where staff are always on time, and where you can always play your best retail game plan.

Many retailers are seeking this brave new frontier in virtual on line spaces like, and other sites.

A virtual on line world is one where the real world is digitally reproduced inside your computer; where humans are depicted by life like images known as Avatars; where virtual land is bought, sold and rented and where people interact in cyberspace as they might in real life including the buying and selling of a plethora of everyday goods and services*.

It may seem far fetched and science fiction, but companies like Reebok, Adidas, DELL, ABC Australia, Big Pond, American Apparel, Starwood Hotels and countless others have all staked their claim to a piece of virtual retailing.

The issue here is not whether Second Life or any other virtual world is the enemy, a threat or the retail messiah, but rather that we look at it as the DNA of a possible emerging new trend in retailing, and business and see how, if at all, it may advance our business.

Starwood Hotels uses its site to conduct virtual world research of new building and hotel fit out concepts by allowing avatars to walk around, “experience” and comment a virtual world hotel built to represent a real world hotel, they use the feedback they get to make changes to plans of their real world hotels.

Others use it to launch new products to a generation that might otherwise not come into their stores or interact with them (viral marketing), others to recruit staff, others use it to get the on line population to help them scope and frame future product innovations and its associated marketing (crowd sourcing).

The possibilities of using virtual worlds to achieve real world business aims is still open to the imagination and may be worth considering as another tool in your marketing toolkit.


* Background: The virtual sales that occur in Second Life are bought and sold using Linden Dollars ($240 Linden to US $1), with the site turning over an average of US$5 million per month, with an expected 2007 GDP of between $500 million and $600 million and resulting in the creation of numerous real world American dollar millionaires.