But I'm frankly surprised by the increasing number of people in the Second Life forums (blogrums) who are calling for Linden Lab to do exactly that. They seem to think that closing XStreet SL / SL Marketplace (and by extension, Apez or any other third-party shopping site) will be some kind of magic bullet that will restore the wonders of in-world shopping to its former, pre-web glory days. I say "only in your lag-induced dreams people."
Numbers don't lie.
As a part-time merchant who first began selling my clothing creatins inworld and then expanded to OnRez when some big merchants like Simone Stern did, I've always seen the majority of my sales coming from the web alternatives. Whether via OnRez or SLX/XStreet/SL Marketplace, sales of my products consistently do much better via the web than in-world.
Some of this is traffic related. When my shop has been in a busy area, I do better. But even at my best locations (the mall outside of Blackhearts Cafe and a brief stint in the New York sim), in-world sales never passed web sales. I've been told I have a really nice looking store and the packaging is pretty good so I think it's really just a difference in medium. Many of my products in fact, are more suited to the detailed, extended presentations offered by XStreet SL.
When I pulled ALL of my items off XStreet SL for a month in protest over Colossus Linden's "Freebies Roadmap", my sales (and those of my fellow merchants who did likewise) plummeted in spite of the extra promotion I threw at the in-world location.
So what's wrong with in-world sales?
In-world (store-based) sales suffer from some very real limitations that often make the web-based shopping experience better for the average Second Life customer. A few come to mind:
- Broken search
- Poor display paradigms for many products
- No ratings or reviews
- No filtering or price sorting
- Higher barriers to entry for new creators
Lag is a big issues for me. My time in SL is valuable and if a store takes 15 minutes to fully rez, I'm not going to stay.
Many products (technical ones for example) don't lend themselves to the "picture-on-a-box-plus-notecard" approach that inworld presentations largely limit you to. Detailed, in-context listings with multiple photos and text (even with the 5000 character limit) are for more useful to many shoppers than camming through endless walls of unsorted, unfilterable, unrezzable items. I sell 20 Evil Tummy Talkers via the web for every ONE that I sell inworld. The added listing features of web-based presentations including sorting by price or relevance, product ratings & reviews and the ability to easily "gift" something clearly put web-based virtual goods shopping out in front of in-world shopping for MOST people.
And finally, for new creators, setting up a web-based presence is much less expensive and generally lower in maintenance than trying to create a quality in-world presence. It's time-consuming to build a store and the extra costs for land or rental often make the difference between profit and loss.
What's right with in-world sales?
This is not to say that there isn't a place for in-world sales. Of course there is. I love to find that special store or sale. If the lag is OK, it's more interesting shopping for something physically than it is looking through a catalog (although the usual "picture-on-a-box" presentation doesn't make the difference all that great). And for certain items, like furniture, builds, hair or skins, there's NO substitute for seeing the item rezzed in-world. Sure you can buy a demo from XStreet SL, but it's just not as seamless as playing with it in-world.
What really needs to happen with BOTH in-world sales and web-based sales are improvements to the engines that power both. Right now, if the SL Marketplace beta is any indication of where Linden Lab is going with web-based sales, creators and customers alike are in for a greatly REDUCED selling and shopping experience. And unless the Lab can address tier costs, lag and search in meaningful ways, the same can be said for in-world sales.