Archive for Shopping

Is Amazon Destined to Replace Marketplace and Buy SL?

Posted in Op/Ed, Real Life, RL, SecondLife®, SL® Business, Virtual Worlds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by Valiant Westland

For years I’ve been predicting that the next wave of Virtual World development would be driven by the inevitable competition of e-commerce, marketing and gaming heavyweights like Google, Amazon & Microsoft.  All of these players have a huge vested interest in capturing the annuity income produced by the rapidly expanding world of Virtual Products and services.

SL Now On AmazonSo imagine my “surprise” when I saw the Second Life Community announcement, about Linden Lab offering Start-up and Enhancement Kits on Amazon!   I believe this is a first step towards the eventual disbanding of the Standalone SL Marketplace, in favor of an Amazon-powered alternative.  If I’m right, SL itself could be an acquisition target for Amazon in the not too distant future.

The early failure of Google’s Lively Virtual 3D World and the lackluster performance of Sony’s PlayStation Home Virtual World offering, should not be used to throw out this line of speculation.  These earlier efforts have one thing in common that Amazon and even SL doesn’t, a lack of profitability.

In addition to an Alpha-level user interface, no realistic profit potential is the main reason Google pulled the plug on Lively.  Interestingly enough, Sony, in response to Microsoft’s hugely successful webstore, has used this years CES show to announce it is bringing its own SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) store to the US and integrate it with the PlayStation Home experience.

Amazon Web ServicesSo why would Linden Lab give up running its own primary revenue source (Marketplace)?  Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and a potential increase in Net Revenues by outsourcing e-commerce to an organization like Amazon.  Amazon has arguably the most cost-effective and efficient e-commerce platform in the world.  They also have something Linden Lab does not, more than “164 Million paying customers!”  This is a huge potential untapped market for Second Life, that would be almost impossible to reach, without this type of partnership.

Many people, not directly involved with Second Life’s back-end development, might be surprised to learn that since 2006 “Linden Lab has used Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store elements used in the Second Life world and to distribute the Second Life Viewer to end users.”  In fact, Amazon has featured Linden Lab in a Case Study, from which this quote was taken.

Every company reaches a point where one or more things happen.  They either fail, diversify with new products & markets to sustain growth, go public, acquire additional private capital or are acquired.  Linden Lab has thus far failed to expand its market.  Their attempts to diversify their product via their Enterprise product was, as reported by Hypergrid Business, “a costly mistake.”  Their more recent Time to Sell!Patterns and Creatorverse products seem unlikely to generate the type of revenue or market expansion required to have a measurable impact on their overall business.  Going public is an unlikely option and it is doubtful any more private capital would flow into a stagnant business model.  The only remaining choice for the original investors to cash out, sell Second Life!

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has proven he is a fierce competitor who is willing to take risks and sacrifice margin to dominate an industry.  In fact, a Jan 8th, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek story on Amazon was summarized like this: “As long as consumers are consuming and shareholders are buying what Bezos is selling, Amazon looks fairly unbeatable.”

Hang on to your virtual hats ladies and gentlemen, I think 2013 could shape up to be an interesting year.  My advice.  Buy Amazon (AMZN) stock and look forward to a Virtual e-Commerce SL Marketplace experience powered by Amazon in the near future!


What Not To Wear

Posted in Guides, Op/Ed, SL® Fashion with tags , , on November 13, 2008 by Iris Seale

So, yesterday I did a post on Shopping Cart Disco about how unattractive ego can be. The designer I was talking about, Vanilla Sola, put up a blog post to ask me, basically, ‘What the hell, bitch?

And Mrs Iris Seale if you got any complains about our design please mention the name of the dress and the problem

Well, it seems I’ve been appropriately “Missus’d” (even though the lady is old enough to be my freaking mom), so I guess I’ll have to do as she asks. For those of our readers who are not vengeful, young and full of spunk, take this as a guide to what a fashion blogger looks for when they consider items for review. Who knows, maybe it’ll help you out when you’re shopping.

I didn’t buy anything from Black Moon, so I’ll be using the ad shots from Vanilla’s blog. As most of us know, getting a sale will rely heavily on your ad. Here is one of Black Moon’s latest releases, Canzone.

When I look at an ad, I look not only at the outfit, but also how it looks with the designer’s selected lighting, skin and hair. Since it’s an ad, I’m assuming that the designer has gone all out to show me exactly how great the outfit can be. The lighting here fails miserably. A lighting setup that lights you evenly is fairly easy to make; the six-light version being the most used. You want to set up lighting so it showcases the details in your outfit. The light reflecting off the prims seems to be a yellow-orange in color, so I’m going to assume that this shot was taken in Windlight settings at sunset. While this light is generally most flattering to your avatar, this is one of the worst times to take photos for an ad in natural light. The light reflects off your avatar and changes most of the colors of your clothes. It can also wipe away delicate details like wrinkles. In this case most of the light is falling on the avatar’s chest, it seems, with little to no light on the dress and face where light belongs.

The skin is also a very poor choice. It looks like something from 2006 and the makeup is far too harsh. Look for something with better detailing (like a collarbone) that upholds the standards you want to project as a brand. The hair is far too light for the skin and distracts the eye from the entire rest of the ad. Now I’m looking at her hair, not her dress. When you choose your skin and hair for an ad, think of them as the canvas for the outfit. You want to capture the spirit of what you’re selling, but not overpower your product.

Now let’s talk about the dress. Interesting. A good concept, but poorly executed. There is no visible shading at all on these textures. In fact, there’s no texture on these textures. Yes, I understand that half your dress is black and therefore cannot be shaded, but using a dark grey would give the impression of black and be able to be shaded. Satin, what I’m assuming a dress like this would be made of, is highly reflective. Fabric wrinkles and forms to our bodies, so a fabric texture should reflect that. Look for realistic shading when you’re out shopping. The white half of the dress looks like the tile on my bathroom floor, if my bathroom floor had no depth.

Clothes are made from fabric. It goes to reason, that a fabric texture should look like fabric. There are many, many ways to achieve a realistic fabric texture, most of which can be found in online tutorials for SL. The tutorials will show you the basics until you develop your own style.

The dress has a white halo. This is caused by the alpha layer (what makes only the clothes appear and not the entire template) not being exactly met by the texture and creates an outline of white pixels. This can be solved by using the Solidify B plugin from Flaming Pear. It makes an alpha layer for you and floods the space with color matching the texture.

The use of the system-skirt with no backup is also a bad idea. Many shoppers (myself included) will not wear a system-skirt if it was lined with cocaine and diamonds. A designer should ideally offer a backup prim version of the skirt, as well.

The prims at the bottom are a good idea. I love mermaid dresses! The problem with these prims are that they don’t take the alpha-glitch into consideration. It’s impossible to get the full effect of a nice, full mermaid skirt with the back prims showing through the front ones. While there’s no cure for the alpha-glitch, there are a lot of workarounds. One popular way is to apply a clear texture to all faces of the prim and then apply your skirt texture to only the face you want showing. It doesn’t cure it completely, but it does cut it down. And is that plywood I see on the sides of those prims? Tsk, tsk, tsk.

I wanted to take one of Vanilla’s dresses and see what I could do with it in under a minute, so I used this ad:

My goal was to apply the things I’ve been discussing in this post to this ad. I gave myself 60 seconds to do that. It’s still not amazing, but I think it’s an improvement. Right click-View Image for full-size:

It takes less than one minute to shade and add texture to your work, so why not try it?


How Much is Too Much?

Posted in SecondLife®, SL® Fashion with tags , , , , on October 10, 2008 by Rosie Shark

Autumn Says: The other day I was innocently scrolling through Plurk when I saw one from Willow, saying how she was lusting after an outfit. I looked at the photo and ohhh yes, it was lovely. I fell in slove immediately. Until Willis pointed out the price. $3999L for that? Really…? Surely there must be a mistake. Newp!

Willow Says: I saw the Abyss Doll and immediately fell for it, I don’t know why… well I do, it’s gorgeous!

Rosie says: I love Abyss. I do. The skins are among my top choices and I willingly pay whatever the asking price is for them! That being said, I don’t have all that many of them.

Willow says: I don’t mind paying the earth for things in SL, anyone that knows me… knows that. But also, anyone that knows me knows that if I want something… I usually procrastinate for a while and then give in, which GAH… I did! I tell you it was peer pressure, I was just happy to visit the Doll’s and stroke my screen lovingly until *someone* went ahead and bought one and then the whole chain just collapsed, dammit!

Autumn Says: I should have known I’d have regrets when I didn’t buy it on the first trip, or the fifth. It made me think about last Halloween and another had-to-have item. Last year Starley Thereian of Celestial Studios and Ginny Talamasca of Last Call did a Halloween collaboration. Called “The Halloween Enchantress” it came with 5 skins, 3 skirt options, 4 hair colours, 2 pairs of shoes, and a bazillion accessories. For $2500L. Not to mention they sold parts separately too.

Rosie Says: I’m a sucker for mega packs and limited releases like the one Autumn mentioned, in addition to others like Sea Nymph and Lucidique (wtf, 10k?!)… I love everything about these special packs and costumes that come up for holidays or whenever!

Rosie Says: Meet Sorrow, Magic, and Mystery… three of the most beautiful and sparkling lil av-dolls you will ever want.

Autumn Says: The skin, shape, outfit, hair and some accessories… for L$3999. I kept mulling that price over in my head. Yes, I realize that $15 USD is about the going rate of one gallon of gas nowadays, but still! I caved. I am a weak person and I have no willpower.

Rosie Says: Now, before anyone cries hooey… what you need to know is that I did ask the questions. I wanted to know the thought process by which the designers behind Abyss used to determine a fair price, one that is in line with the market in SL. My curiosity is sparked. And what is it that makes us want something when we truly believe that the asking price is too much?

I did not get a response. So, there.

Willow Says: When I eventually settled on one I immediately felt that I’d bought the wrong one… but there’s no way I can justify buying two of these, not with more awesome releases just around the corner (no doubt). But nevermind, it’s done… remorse won’t help me.

I pop it on and immediately put my shape on, I can’t do other shapes for more than 5 seconds, it makes me unreasonably cranky. So that’s already one piece I won’t ever wear… remorse sets in slightly more…. Then I noticed a texture glitch which is no biggy.. right? Well it kinda IS a biggy cos the stockings are no mod, and if I want to wear my skirt without the pantaloons, I have to live with it, which yes in the grand scheme of life isn’t a huge deal, but for the price it’s a bit irritating.

Autumn Says: It’s not that I don’t like the Marionette Av. I like it a lot, I just can’t get over the fact that I don’t really feel like it was worth it. All of it is no mod – you can modify it through a menu system, but frankly it takes about 3 times as long that way and doesn’t work as well. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to adjust part of the prim pantaloons to no avail.

Willow Says: I don’t regret buying the set (much), I wish there were more options… I wish you could buy the hair colours separately, or the skins perhaps… It was such a pain in the ass deciding which colour hair, and all the sets have different bits, blah!

Rosie Says: We can’t always help ourselves. Gawking at a thing of beauty, holding ourselves back from clicking ‘buy’. The first trip, or 4, we merely observed. Dumbfounded that the actual price would set me back nearly 4 Venti Vanilla Mochas, I was paralyzed. Ok, maybe not ventis, more like grandes.

Autumn Says: Also, there are some flaws, as Willow mentioned, minor possibly, but they are there, and again, I expect perfection if I’m spending enough to buy myself a trip to the movies. I do like it, but I don’t think I’d buy it again, and I definitely won’t be buying the other marionettes (apparently there are more on the way too). That is unless Willis and Rosie talk me into it….

Willow Says: My plea to designers out there is that if you’re going to do AV’s like this, can we at least have one or two hair colours in the pack? If there is an emo skin can we please have a regular and vice versa? If you don’t want to add more to the sets, could we at least have the option to buy a few of the bits separately? I would have loved the Pearls from one of the sets with mine, but I really can’t spend $L4k just for some pearls that I might wear once in a while! Maybe a few demos of the bits that matter, hairs… skins… etc?

I think SL has to be all about options to cater for the masses, and I love options. I just wish there were more 😦 Give us small bits and lots of them, we’d have probably spent twice that without even realising and had all the hair colours in the WORLD!

Rosie Says: No kidding! I think I’d have been in there clickity-click-clicking without realizing I was sinking into the ‘abyss’.

No Earthly Business

Posted in SecondLife®, SL® Fashion with tags , , on September 17, 2008 by Catero

Second Life® can be a great tool for inspiring and empowering people to utilize their underused creativity. Real life barriers which previously may have hindered unexplored interests can melt away upon logging in with very little investment required, aside from one’s time. Hell, you don’t even have to change out of your pyjamas.

Always wanted to be a singer? Don’t let your unsuccessful American Idol audition squelch dreams of your name in lights. Get a mic headset, an audio stream, and stock up on some karaoke tracks.

Dreamed of being an international runway model? Your 5’7” (171 cm.) female or 5’9” (175 cm.) male stature inhibits your catwalk aspirations. Grab some fashion poses and animations, a sleek array of avatar customization products, and max out that height slider.

Haunted by the overwhelming desire to dress up like a fox and register for a furry fandom convention? Forego the cost and cumbersome nature of a full-body fursuit. Assume a furry identity by getting familiar with some anthropomorphic attachments.

Anyone can make up for lost opportunity in real life by taking advantage of the resources offered in-world.

Take owning a business, for example. As long as one has the talent, ability and know-how to create vendors and ads, promote their products and/or services in the usual forums and has a little capital for start-up *bam* you’re marketing virtual land, selling prim baked goods or creating clothing items.

The beauty of SL is that one does not need any real world experience with the inner workings of a business environment to start their own company.

The curse of SL is that one does not need any real world experience with the inner workings of a business environment to start their own company.

No, I didn’t just get mixed up and contradict myself. The freedom of being able to open one’s own store based on their heart’s desire is a double-edged sword.

Business owners with little concept of or consideration towards good customer service practice are, quite frankly, a pain in the ass to transact with. And there’s no infrastructure for a ‘Better Business Bureau’ to advocate on the consumer’s behalf.

Buying a product or service from a retailer who does not have the willingness to appropriately liaise with customers and appeal to common sense trends is frustrating to deal with – making them unlikely to get repeat business. A bit like shooting oneself in the foot. “Hey, I have this great product, but I’m such an asshole that asking me why I sell no mod pants because you want to buy them will send you running in search of a comparable product from a competitor”, isn’t a good base upon which to establish one’s business strategy. Neither is “I piss off Second Life one customer at a time” a good corporate motto.

A curmudgeonly shopkeeper that keeps him/herself in ignorance can drive their own customers away. Imagine that.

Some time ago – before they subscribed to their own domain/hosting plan and cleared out the old free WordPress blog – Shopping Cart Disco asked its readers to comment on less-than-favourable experiences with shop owners.  One commenter shared how she and a friend had been browsing in a particular store while the aging “couture” designer herself was there making chit-chat with shoppers. The resident, who had fully intended to make a purchase, left the store appalled by the designer’s own inappropriate behaviour.

Shop owners: having a location stocked with your reasonably-priced goods isn’t enough.

Here are a few simple things that keep customers happy:

Customer service:

  • Whether you speak the language of your patrons or not, treating people with dignity and respect is a universal that crosses all boundaries. Even when your customer loses his/her cool and acts like a complete ass, keep calm and be clear.
  • Remember to pick your battles and keep it professional. Some people get worked up and can’t see beyond their own frustration (and for some reason they haven’t sought help in anger management to the point where mild hiccups during the course of virtual life drives them into a tizzy). Don’t follow their flawed example. Plus, consider the comedic value of posting the chat log on your store blog for the blogosphere giggle at.
  • Never underestimate the power of a customer service rep. If you suck at being nice to people, find someone who doesn’t. You may not make the weekly/monthly revenue to pay staff, but getting paid in your products or clothing may be as gold to some.

Product permission and demo sensibilities:

  • It ‘aint rocket science. Hair and skin styles should have demos. Give people an opportunity to try before they buy, otherwise, be prepared to field IMs from those who have gone out on a limb based on the vendor/ad photos and purchased your product.
  • To be courteous, set the demo price at L$0. “Hai, here’s a demo of my product. You might not like it, but give me your money anyways.”
  • It doesn’t hurt to make pants (and sometimes shirts – especially dress shirts that go under suit jackets) modifiable. Allow your customers to choose the level of fit to the items that will compliment their virtual identities.

Listen to your clientele:

Most designers invariably make products that they themselves would want to purchase, which drives initial sales interest. Many shoppers see your products and visualize all the possibilities based on your style/approach. People who shop in your store or subscribe to your service have an external perspective on your business that you don’t have. Sometimes a bold customer will come to you with a feedback about your brand. Of course, some people have asinine suggestions, but don’t be so sure to dismiss the ideas of those who have sane and constructive advice. Their suggestions of additional colours or cuts are insight into appealing to a broader market than just your own tastes. Be adventurous and consider taking their recommendations. And – hey – it’s free market research.

Empathy is your friend:

Everyone in the world is a customer at some point or another in time. Think back on positive or negative experiences you’ve had as a consumer and reflect on the reasons why you felt that way. The bad stuff: endeavour not to repeat and project it on your own customers. The good stuff: adapt it to your current needs and make it a part of your approach.

Above all: don’t slam the door on your own business.

Can’t cope? Read Customer Service For Dummies.

(FYI: There’s gonna be a lot more “u’s” used around here. Favourite. Colour. Honour. Learn to love ’em.)