Promotional free items such as demo versions, samples, or novelty items offered to visitors are utilized by many businesses to attract new customers. Another common reason for such freebies is to generate interest, and therefore demand, for an upcoming product release. Improving the relationship with faithful customers and establishing trust are critical both for repeat business business, but also to generate free exposure for the business via word-of-mouth advertising.
While some businesses are willing to give away their freebies for nothing in return, the smart ones will request prospects for contact information (such as name and email address if it is a web site), alternatively requesting permission to subscribe the avatar to an in-world mailing list or add them to a group for the purpose of receiving future promotional material. In some cases the so-called freebies are not available unless the avatar pays a nominal fee in exchange which entitles them to receiving items sent to the avatar on a regular basis. In these cases while the items received are not truly free the avatar ends up paying less overall in comparison to purchasing those items individually.
Avatars are encouraged to “shop around” when freebies are made available as some dishonest businesses will simply find a copyable and transferable free object in a hangout area then turn around and promote it to their own customers. Fortunately, with a quick search of the internet and reviews on forums these types of businesses are discovered very quickly and their customer base will quickly distrust them.
Some businesses will place restrictions on the freebies they distribute either through technical means (such as configuring the object to be no-modify or non-transferable) or by including a TOS (Terms of Service) notecard with the free item. However, this is a balancing act because if similar businesses are offering their freebies on more flexible terms those that are restrictive may loose market share. Another consideration is some avatars are simply out to collect every freebie they can find even if they never use it. They may never intend on reading the TOS nor visit the landmark included with the freebie, but for some businesses that is acceptable because if even a small portion of the freebie collectors later do decide to revisit the business to purchase something then it will have paid off in the long run.
In an effort to attract visitors some venues and business areas, such as a mall, have a dance area with a live host and either a live DJ or a streaming radio station that hold “Best of… ” contests. These contests invite visitors to wear outfits that fit a specific theme similar to costume contests in the real world during the month of October. The contest has a specific starting and ending time and the rules tend to be fairly loose in that a themed outfit may either be created by wearer or obtained elsewhere. It is not uncommon for pictures to be taken during these events and posted onto a nearby wall as a memory of the event.
The incentive for visitors to attend such events typically includes a cash payout to the winner(s) of the contest. Some hosts will collect the votes manually via instant message or notecards while other hosts will utilize a scripted voting board where participants can both register to be voted on or they may vote for others. Throughout the event the host will encourage everyone to convince their friends to attend the event which increases traffic in the area and has the side effect of potentially higher sales for local businesses or additional tips received by the venue and host.
Voting criteria is generally a popularity contest with no specific guidelines on what should be considered when voting which means if sometimes the winner is the person that teleported the most loyal friends to the event. However, that is not to say those who are truly selecting the best outfit is not basing it on attributes such as visuals, authenticity, and how closely related it is to the contest theme. Many contests are for individuals, but some places also hold competitions for couples or will divide the contest prizes between the best male avatar and best female avatar.
The extra traffic to an area as a result of these competitions has the potential to benefit not only the host and value, but also businesses renting a shops and stalls near the dance area. However, with the concentration of avatars in a single location within a sim means an increased chance of lag due to the server having to process all those avatars and the client viewer software having to load lots of textures into cache. The risk is that visitors may teleport away from the area as a result. The primary method to address this is by reducing the number of scripts used by vendors and other objects as well as requesting that visitors remove unnecessary HUD’s and attachments in order to improve the experience for everyone.