The Problems with Delivering Real Goods from a Virtual World
I spent another great session at the VIO seminar in Second Life on Monday morning (my time). Xander Newman covered how to deal with real life businesses that are using Second Life for vCommerce. All great stuff and it, deservedly, drew an awesome crowd. However, at the usual after-seminar discussion someone mentioned that they wished they could buy pizza using Second Life. Buying real life goods from a virtual world is not a new thing. Both Dell and American Apparel tried it in Second Life back in 2006. By all accounts both were dismal failures. Likewise delivering pizza (or any other real life product) faces some monumental hurdles to make the experience both worthwhile for the retailer and a valuable alternative to the comsumer.
Believing that something mundane is cooler, better, more elvish when done in Second Life or any other virtual world is hardly a new phenomenon. Back in the late eighties it was considered cool to use the command line to trigger the Coke machine to deliver a can of Coke at the local university computer club. In the nineties it was considered cool to order pizza over the web. The geek-set in particular are known for pushing the boundaries of technology in order to achieve an otherwise mundane result. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact pizza ordering over the web has become a major marketing differentiation point for some companies. One that their competitors have rapidly employed as well. However doing something for fun and making it into a viable business solution are two very different things.
Consider the problems associated with attempting to deliver pizza from Second Life:
- Pizza has a limited shelf-life period and so must be provided locally (usually within 30mins or it’s free =). Second Life is global. So any pizza franchise offering orders from Second Life must have a worldwide network of stores. The only pizza chain I know that has anything resembling that is Pizza Hut and they don’t even have a global ordering system for their web interface
- Most pizza places are open (and deliver) only during limited hours. Second Life is open 24/7.
- There’s nothing linking your Second Life avatar to you and your delivery address. Therefore the potential for fraud is high. Especially with non-pay info accounts.
- The Second Life populace is extremely small in comparison to other (and more useful) ordering options like the web or telephone so the ROI is likely to be comparatively small.
One option that may work as a marketing solution is linking a Second Life object to a web interface so that clicking on the object brings up an external web site where you can order your pizza. That doesn’t get around the first two hurdles mentioned above but it may be worth examining as option for a major pizza chain. Certainly the initial outlay would be minimal. However, it may still be non-viable until Second Life has better browser implementation.
So, if Pizza is problematic then what about other real life goods? One option that at least initially looks appealing is the furniture market. An organisation like Ikea who have a worldwide distribution network could conceivably benefit from having a virtual showroom where consumers could see their virtual items on display, buy the virtual item and then try them in a mock-up of their real life home or office.
However even here we’re faced with hurdles that may make the idea non-viable:
- Second Life’s modelling features are very limited. Getting exact models from an external source and importing them into Second Life is difficult. Second Life only accepts a small number of modelling formats.
- Even when you’re able to import the models, Second Life may not be able to render them exactly as they appear in the real world. This may create potential legal problems depending on where you are delivering the goods. A disclaimer mentioning the possible differences between the virtual and real-world objects may suffice but what if it doesn’t? It’s something that needs considering during the planning stages
- At least in Ikea’s case, different stores sell different goods and sometimes at different prices. This means that ordering in Second Life and having the local store deliver it can pose a problem.
Delivering real world goods using a virtual world interface isn’t impossible, but it should never be done just because you can. The questions that always needs to be asked are why is this better? Why are we doing this? How is this helping us? What makes this better for the customer? Only after you have answered them should you consider implementing it.Tags: american apparel, coke, dell, furniture, ikea, pizza, pizza hut, Second Life, vio, Xander Newman