Four or five years ago I read a newspaper article about a grocery store in Blacksburg, Va., where you could pick out your items on a website, pay with a credit card, and drive down to there store and pick them up. One of the bag boys would have them already bagged and waiting on you. Blacksburg being the home of Virginia Tech, I figured a few campus geeks were involved. I have no idea how long it lasted.
Of course, online shopping has been around for a while now. It's nothing new. But it is becoming more complicated. Case in point: the potential (and potential drain) of Second Life…
Second Life is one of many virtual worlds out there. Okay, it's the leading virtual world. It's uses (and abuses) are legion. I wrote a piece recently over at the Web 2.0 blog about a study that estimated that one billion people would live in virtual worlds by 2012. That's a big market place. Back in January I talked on my personal blog about how the line between reality and fantasy can get blurred in virtual worlds; presidential campaigns were setting up house in Second Life.
Arianne Cohen at Fast Company has an interesting piece online at the moment that looks at sales and marketing in Second Life. The big companies have learned that Second Life has potential – and that it's not necessarily about the weight of your wallet.
There are three things to think about. First, can you develop a product or service to sell inside Second Life (or some other virtual world)? Second Life has its own money, but it is convertible back into US dollars and you can transfer it from the game back into your bank account. Second, does Second Life provide marketing opportunities? If your real world products and services are available online, it's likely that some of your savviest clients could be found in Second Life. Finally, can you use Second Life as a staging ground for making real world sells? In her article, Cohen gives the example of CareerBuilder.com: kiosks they set up in Second Life resulted in 6,500 real life job applications.
There are uses for Second Life other than just sales and marketing. One of the most common is virtual conferencing. Everyone logs into Second Life instead of flying to Chicago or Atlanta and spending the company's money on a hotel room.
The development of Second Life leaves businesses with a lot to consider. Among the questions: Can you afford to ignore it…?