Taylor, Andrew and Varley, Rosemary (2008) Embodiment in 3D virtual retail environments: exploring perceptions of the virtual shopping experience. In: The body: connections with fashion conference proceedings 2008. IFFTI Conference. ISBN 9781921426186

The customer can now easily create, and customize, their own personal three dimensional (3D) virtual bodies in a variety of virtual environments; could you, by becoming a virtual body, actually enhance your online shopping and buying experiences or, would this potentially inhibit the pure visceral pleasure of retail therapy?

"Second Life allows you to be a celebrity in your own lunchtime, .…you can design the body you've always wanted, and indulge your fashionista fetish for very little money. You can be the most attractive, best-dressed version of yourself you can imagine."

This paper investigates online shopping in Second Life, through the experience of being avatars.

We will discuss the possibilities of using avatars as brand new consumer identities for personalised and customised fashion shopping within the 3D multi user virtual environment, and question the influences and effects of these developments on the traditional high street shopping trip.

The hyper un-realistic and non-sensory interface of online shopping for clothes has been hotly debated over the last decade; through the media, the industry and most importantly by the buying public. The customer’s inability to try on and experience the product has been the main inhibitor to shopping on-line, and the high levels of product returns in home shopping dramatically reflect this reality. Faster broadband connections and improved 2D web sites are making clothes shopping on the web more accessible, and for important customer groups, such as young professional females, and plus-size teenagers, virtual 3D technologies offer freedom of choice in any location.

Retailers are now confidently providing different shopping experiences by combining 2D and 3D interactive visualisation technologies with advanced marketing techniques, to create virtual retail environments that attempt to actualise the true essence of shopping; by browsing, socialising, trying-on before buying and, in a new twist, leaving the store proudly wearing the item just purchased. American Apparel, Bershka, L’Oreal, Calvin Klein, Reebok, Sears, Nike and Adidas are pioneering virtual mega stores, and all offer newly innovative, and alternative shopping experiences inside 3D multi user virtual environments.

An experiential and exploratory approach will be used to investigate fashion brands, and their virtual 3D stores in Second Life. As 3D avatars, we will record a range of customer perceptions and attempt to map their shopping patterns in this massively popular virtual world. The qualitative data gathered will inform discussions about the value of the virtual shopping experience for the customer and the retailer. Conclusions will also question the possibility of using avatars in a virtual shopping environment to acquire accurate body specifications for better fit and the collection of personal details for use in the future development of alternative shopping experiences.

Conference Paper
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