A Retail Experiment Concludes

Sunday, March 21, 2010 Sunday, March 21, 2010

Some weeks ago I attempted to improve the in-store experience for my customers by reducing the number of visible textures. The theory was this: visitors appear at the teleport landing point, but their viewers are instantly overloaded by texture loads and their world is gray. You see, my store’s design concept is an open one that makes all items very easy to find because it’s mostly open to view.

The open concept worked at first, because I perceived an issue I had when shopping: some shops have far too many rooms, hallways and areas in which to look for items. It makes shopping nearly impossible for those in a rush, although some may find difficult shopping experiences fun. I wanted to avoid that situation, especially where customers don’t even see your products because they were in a room the customer never encountered. So I simply laid out all my items in easy to view locations. My first store had no ceiling and very few walls.

However, as the store grew and more products were added, the requirement for more textures (mainly on product boxes) continued to grow. It came to a point where a visitor would be faced with loading (albeit automatically) over 150 textures in order to see the store. Tracking software indicated some visitors would appear and then quickly leave. The obvious conclusion was that they were overwhelmed by the gray view and simply went somewhere else without shopping. Not good!

The experimental solution was to block off each of the store’s areas from general view, requiring shoppers to enter them before they could see the products and require texture loads. This way the store would become visible much faster and this should be a better experience for shoppers. I even placed helpful signs and arrows indicating where people should enter each area.

After weeks of running in this mode, I now conclude the texture load theory was wrong. While the store did come into view much faster when teleporting in, sales dropped off significantly. At first I took this to indicate a continuation of the degraded economy in general, but several friends (Amber, Haley and Marlee) suggested the visibly blocked store sections conveyed a different impression to shoppers - hidden products must be creepy! Since shopping is a very psychological matter, especially in SL, I thought there’s probably something to this theory.

Ten days ago I took down the obscuring walls to once again reveal the entire store to view. As expected, long texture load is now quite evident when teleporting in, but what would happen to sales? After ten days of “open” operation, I can safely say that sales are up significantly!

The conclusion? While texture rezzing performance is always important, the psychological factors that develop from the store’s visual appearance trump performance when it comes to shopping.


Quaintly Tuqiri said...

Ah, texture loading time! I guess that's probably why a number of large clothing stores stores land us at a "Welcome area" either outside the store or in the centre of it, where a TP board is located offering TPs to various sections, but no products are on display.

I didn't visit your store when you had the various areas blocked off, so I wonder how the welcome area was arranged/designed. For example, what kind of textures did you have on the walls for people to see when they TP'd in? Did you have a particle display in your welcome area? I don't think the issues is that people find hidden products "creepy"; I think it could be an issue of having a space that is visually appealing.

You see, when your store is open to view, people can see the splashes of colour where your displays and demos are. But if everything is closed up, you might need to think of something else to catch their eye and keep them intrigued enough to want to stay and see more. If I were to TP in and only see black walls and signs, I might think, "There's nothing to see here" or "Why is it so dark?" or any number of things.

If you didn't have a particle display in the welcome area earlier, I wonder whether having one - just one - would attract potential customers to stay in the store. It would serve two purposes: firstly, acting as an example of what you have to offer, and secondly, capturing people's interest to make them want to venture further into the store.

If you did have a particle display there, or interesting stuff on the walls, then... I guess I'm out of ideas :P

Ari Blackthorne™ said...

I use both paradigms at my place - and Quaintly has been there (one of her descriptions above describes it exactly).

Landing point with signage and teleports.
It also is designed for fast-as-possible rezzing.
Then you pass through the outdoorsy stuff to the north or south into the showroom-proper.

And it is a large circle (actually a square - but you get the idea) - designed to as very LONG hallways. This way all the prims and textures in view rezz as they should and as you walk the hall, new prims and textures rezz as the slowly come into view.

The design is circular for those browsers: they can pick a direction and keep going and end-up walking full circle - hence being able to see all we offer.

I am now in the process of adding "purchasing options" to everything, so that people can purchase directly, via a vending system, store ("gift") card and purchasing gifts for others.

Rule number one in business: make it easy as possible for the customer to give you their money. meaning: entice them, earn their interest in your product, make it easy for them to buy it.

Closed-off "rooms" are not that great for a shopping experience. I am a hunter (as opposed to the gatherer) so I fall into that "I want it now" category.

The trick is to find the right balance and it starts with store layout. Then, interesting product art, then easy as possible purchasing paradigms.

I am notorious: I never ever shop unless I am on the hunt. However, when I get to a place (like your store) - I tend to browse and my impulse-buying kicks-in as I have a lit of money that I just don;t spend much of very often.

So first is layout: make it interesting; then display: entice interest; them and this is oh-so-important: purchasing options (We offer everything in your choice of transfer or copy for example).

I am scared to visit your place also, by the way. I might blow all those pent-up Linden Dollars at once. (I've done that before) LOL

Tigro Spottystripes said...

What if you replace the solid yellow "doors" with screenshots of each section kinda like the painted tunnels in a Road Runner cartoon?

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