July 19, 2010

Shut down Second Life's web-based shopping!!!

To be clear up front, this is not what I want to do!

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
  • Lag
  • Poor display paradigms for many products
  • No ratings or reviews
  • No filtering or price sorting
  • Higher barriers to entry for new creators
Second Life has been plagued by crummy search for a long time. Whether it's due to traffic gaming or the inability for the Google search engine to effectively find what people are looking for, there's no denying that for most, search just doesn't return good, relevant results. Search for "babydoll dresses" and you're just as likely to end up with a dance club or some BDSM place as you are with actual outfits.

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.

Snick's conclusions

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.


  1. Not only do I make more from web based sales, I would rather *shop* that way, also.

    I'm still not sure why, at all, this should even be an issue. In world locations, while necessary, are laggy, use up valuable prims, cost more, and take longer to set up and maintain.

    Why would anyone WANT to deal with a solely inworld shopping experience?

  2. I think target market makes a big difference here. Yes, those of us who've been around a while really like inworld shopping. Many of us will even deal with the lag in order to shop inworld until it becomes unbearable. However, the market for our products (no matter what product it might be) comes from the collective pool which is the total population of SL. This market consists of those who are already not only familiar, but comfortable with online shopping in the Web 2.0 environment. There is no learning curve to using the medium they already know, and makes products seem far more accessible. I personally prefer to purchase inworld. I do, however, still purchase from creator's non-SL (read NOT XStreet) sites.

  3. @ELQ -- Yes the Web 2.0 paradigm is clearly very comfortable and familiar for most "new to SL" users. A lot easier to look at the online catalog, pick out an item, pay and see it in your inventory than "Do I right click and Pay? Left click and buy? Left click and pay unknown vendor?"

    @bronxelf -- Furniture stores, hair outlets, rezzing platforms for builds, prim garden items, etc. are all better reasons to stick with in-world shopping vs. web-based.

  4. @snickers_snook I own a furniture store, so I *have* to maintain an inworld shop. But if I didn't? I wouldn't. But I'll repeat again, the vast bulk of sales don't come from the store. They come from Xstreet - even with a furniture store. But what I asked was why would anyone want to shut down the web sales option, and rely on a solely inworld experience? It would kill a lot of SL businesses entirely, especially with search being as broken as it is.

  5. There is a significant minority that think shutting down XStreet / SL Marketplace would improve the overall in-world SL experience. As you can tell, I don't agree at all and am reasonably sure it isn't going to happen. Just thought I'd address those rumblings anyway. :)

  6. It's good to hear your experience on this subject as I only sell inworld.
    This may be because of my products...trees mainly...
    My brief brushes with trying to sell via the web haven't been good, and I have also never bought anything from Xstreet.... so it doesn't suit me, but good to hear you have had success with this.

  7. I have to confess to also finding the calls for the shut down of web based sales bizarre! There are plenty of issues with both Xstreet/SL Marketplace and in-world selling that need to be address, but shutting down web based sales is just cutting off your nose to spite your face!

    Clearly having the option to buy in-world or on the web is to the benefit of both merchants and shoppers.

    I hate to sound all conspiratorial, but I can only think of two logical reasons behind some of these calls for the closing of web based sales:

    1. It's merchants desperately looking for and excuse for their poor sales, and coming to completely the wrong conclusion!

    2. It's ulterior motives coming from people determined to see SL fail, perhaps because they have a vested interest in other virtual worlds. I know that does sound very much like a conspiracy theory which is something I try to avoid! However, I've seen a bit of activity lately that makes me think some of that is going on :o


All thoughts are welcome.