Take One Moment to Consider Perceived Quality

parcelsettingsThe perception of how much effort is used to create a quality store environment can affect whether prospective visitors turn into a paying customer or whether they teleport away never to be seen again. Three of the factors that may apply to store quality include the arrangement of prims (i.e. textures, sizes, and organization) in the store, information visible on signs (i.e. pop-up notices and store policies), as well as parcel settings (i.e. name, media, restrictions).

The arrangement of prims can set the tone of the store depending on whether they appear to be rezzed in an organized fashion or scattered around the store at odd angles. Textures used in the store should be something other than the default of plywood and plain at a high enough resolution to show details, but not so high that it takes a long time for the texture to come into view. Alpha textures can be viewed from all angles to ensure there are no glitches and non-alpha textures at the same level overlap with each other resulting in the viewer randomly toggling between the two (sometimes referred to as flickering).

The purpose of signs in a store is to be informational without being too intrusive meaning landmarks and notecards are to be offered to the visitor only once, not every time they happen to walk into the sensor area. Store policies such as return, custom orders, post-sale support, and gifting options need to be clearly visible and available. Finally, any vendors that dispense a product needs to include not only the price of the item, but also the number of prims required and permissions allowed.

Parcel settings can either enhance the shopping experience or hinder it. For example, if the parcel is set to no-scripts then the chances of lag affecting avatars is minimized, but setting no-scripts might also disallow visitors from using their favorite HUD. Media settings such as music and sounds cannot conflict with each other, if there are sounds that you want the visitor to hear then a music stream playing at the same time may result in them not hearing the intended sound. Finally, the name of the parcel and description should be informative enough so that if the visitor decides to create their own landmark (rather than accepting yours) it will be informative when they are looking through their inventory window later.

The Hidden Value of Furniture

furnishingsThe furnishings used within a store is important because from a buyer’s point of view it will greatly affect their firm impressions of the goods or services available. Furniture should be high quality and appeasing to look at while also functional at the same time. It should blend in with the theme of the rest of the store (i.e. wall and floor colors) without impeding the flow of traffic.

While in a virtual world one does need to be concerned about whether furniture is well painted, the textures used on the furniture should be detailed enough to have a sense of quality but not necessarily at a high resolution as the texture needs to rez in a reasonable amount of time. Stores that mostly consist of plain grey surfaces for an extended period of time can be a turn-off to any potential buyers. Once the textures on furniture does become visible textures should be properly aligned along surface edges and have a smooth or polished look to convey quality.

Common furnishings in a typical retail shop might include lamps (local lighting), displays (demo objects), a cash register (scripted vendors), card machines (kiosks to purchase in-world currency), and shopping carts (dedicated rez areas for unboxing new purchases into inventory). The placement of these functional furnishings should express professionalism by being located away from walls while at the same time not affect avatar traffic nor camera angles as prospects navigate throughout the store.

There’s more to customer loyalty than just repeat sales

teleportOne of the best ways to increase sales is to sell to your existing customer base and in order to accomplish that customer loyalty needs to be established. It is especially difficult in the virtual world to retain customer loyalty due to the fact that all transactions occur via the internet, therefore unlike in the physical world businesses no longer have a local economy advantage of being close to where the customers live. Prospects can simply teleport away to another location without giving it a second thought, therefore first impressions and post-sale follow up service is a must.

The same ease that allows potential customers to consider the competition can also be used to your advantage to check out the competition yourself. One must know as much as possible about their own customers as they do about the offerings of competitors to determine whether the products offered aligns with customer needs. This may require surveying visitors and/or asking follow-up questions after the sale to determine why the customer purchased your product over someone else’s. Once this information is obtained targeted marketing (in contrast to mass marketing) is used to both attract the right type of new customer and to encourage the existing customer base to come back and purchase more.

While direct one-to-one instant messaging with customers is effective, a strong social media presence is also a must. Face-to-face interactions are less likely in a virtual world, however when a purchased product is meant for public view then teleporting to the customer’s location can be beneficial. Not only does this show the customer that one cares about follow-up service it also allows the creator to see how their item fits into different environments which can lead to specialized features in future versions. Other forms of effective social media includes maintaining a blog demonstrating your expertise in an industry as well as replying to comments posted by others in forums.

Finally, the sales process itself needs to occur smoothly in order for that customer to return and purchase more. The store environment should be lag free utilizing low-impact scripts and a minimum amount of high resolution textures. In-world vendors should be online 24/7 and alternate methods of purchase available such as via web-based stores hosted by the virtual world provider. Product delivery should be timely once the in-world currency is transferred from the customer to the creator and all store policies needs to be made available both before and after the sale. In summary, if the sales process itself is not a positive experience for the customer then regardless of how high quality and useful their new purchase is they likely will not return to make additional purchases.

What’s the Catch when it comes to “Best in…” Contests?

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.