Through Micro Persuasion I saw that IBM is helping Sears launch a store in Second Life, and has already been working with Circuit City. Like everyone else writing online I applaud these retailers for opening stores in Second Life and expending some real effort to explore where the future of retailing might be headed. The real game, though, is Life 1.5 (if “First Life” is real life and Second Life is a virtual world, I guess shopping online leaves us with a foot in each – Life 1.5).
As commentators talk about the need for Second Life to get easier to use so more people can shop in virtual stores, I think developers should focus on creating virtual stores outside of Second Life. Sure, the framework already exists in Second Life to create these stores so it only makes sense to start there, but the real goal should be to create stores that any visitor to a company’s Web site can use. That would mean no download required, by the way. If I were Linden Lab I would be working on a standalone virtual store app that I could sell to retailers for their own Web sites.
Second Life might eventually become the online equivalent of Wichita, where companies go to test market their products before unleashing them on the world. Second Life stores could be integrated with a retailer’s online virtual store so that Second Life citizens could bump into their neighbor, who is not a Second Lifer, in Sears. Sears, meanwhile, could open sections of its store just for Second Lifers with special deals and products. It could have regional (real world geography) virtual stores as well.
Linden may very well be working on this right now, but it looks like opportunity to me. Not everyone wants to live a Second Life, but (almost) everyone wants to shop in an easy to enter virtual store.