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how online worlds will help online shopping

April 3, 2008

Online shopping is completely task orientated.

It’s not really online shopping — it’s more like online buying. When we buy something online, chances are we know what we’re getting. Yes, it might start with a search for coffee makers, but that isn’t shopping.

Shopping occurs in the real world. If a husband has no idea what to get his wife for her birthday, he can do some scouting online at sites that offer advice, but hitting an actual store (like one that sells jewelry) is likely to be the best move. That’s shopping.
That sort of interaction doesn’t exist online. No salespeople to offer advice. No one to shop with. Online shopping is a solitary thing. Maybe that could all change?

The existence of 3D worlds like Second Life, could mean for a better online shopping experience. The reason is, as programmers get better at helping people interact, the learning for that interaction could be taken to online shopping. There’s already a mall in New Zealand that is entirely online. It’s a first person shopper site, in the realm of first person shooter games. It doesn’t offer interaction, but it offers browsing (a key element needed for shopping).

what’s important to note here is that programmers are practicing ways to make the online world more life-like. Check out this flash woman from here. She’s creepy, but life-like. This is important learning.

Because designers will get into the game. And I don’t mean web designers, I mean people who design in the real world. If you visit your local real world store, it was designed to make the shopping experience easier. Target is an excellent example. Thought is put into store layout, colors, signage, size of shelves, order of clothes and a bunch of other things all meant to make the experience better. This isn’t being done yet online, but as the programming gets better at making online worlds seem more real, these designers will be asked to help design the online experience.

Thus, two people can go shopping together, and ‘try on’ clothes together. Hangin out at the mall could take on a whole new context, as friends from all over the world meet up in a mall.

If you think this is fantasy, consider for a moment the connectivity of people coming of age on the computer. With Facebook, IM and Skype, a 12 year old right now could conceivable have a best friend who lives a 1,000 miles away. Yes, people will still be best friends with people in their geographic zones, but that’s no longer a limitation.

My friends growing up were people who lived on my street, went to my school, or played on my teams. That’s because they had the advantage of being close to me in the real world. With the advent of the internet, the geographical limitations are eliminated. People can use a myriad of tools to stay in touch with people outside of their physical networks.

This is an important because it’s the power of online networks. And eventually, as these networks transcend geography,  there will be a demand for services like online shopping that also transcend geography.

We’re close. The tools are in place.  Programmers are making online worlds more and more life-like. It won’t be long before online malls are normalized. It just seems like a trend that’s a no-brainer.

And online shopping will truly flourish.  People want to share.

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