Dr Alex Zarifis

Have you made a purchase from a three dimensional Virtual World (VW)? Probably not, only a small minority have. When VWs first became popular fifteen years ago, people jumped to the conclusion that they were the future, the new platform to socialise online. Their adoption however did not end up being exponential. So why do the experts often think VWs, with their additional functionality are the future, but that future has not come yet? We decided to ask the consumer.
There is a degree of understanding on what each channel can offer but the relative advantage of each channel in relation to the others is less understood. By relative advantage we mean something the one channel, for example three dimensional VWs, have an advantage over two dimensional, traditional, websites. This research, evaluates the relative advantage between the channels of three-dimensional VWs, two-dimensional websites, and offline retail shops. The consumer’s preferences across the three channels, were distinguished across six relative advantages.

Figure 1 The three channels and six relative advantages in multichannel retail
In the figure, you can see at the top the six different relative advantages, and beneath them, how the three different channels perform, in relation to these relative advantages. Participants, showed a preference for offline and 2D websites, in most situations apart from enjoyment, entertainment, sociable shopping, the ability to reinvent yourself, convenience and institutional trust where the VWs were preferred.
We can look in more detail at the fifth relative advantage, that VWs have higher institutional trust compared to 2D websites. Consumers value the role of the VW as an institution in relation to trust. One feature that is appreciated is that the buyer does not receive your banking details. Some participants value the role of the VWs administration in identifying and warning about specific threats.
The findings illustrated in the figure, show that the consumer’s preference varies across the three channels, and six RAs. An organization pursuing a multichannel strategy, can adapt their offerings in each channel to fully utilize these different preferences.
While on most issues VWs are the least appealing from the three channels, framing the comparison with the six relative advantages shows how they have a useful and complementary role to play in multichannel retail. For example, customer support can be done in VWs. An organization, can use these findings to shape their business model and strategy.

Zarifis A. (2019) ‘The six relative advantages in multichannel retail for three-dimensional Virtual Worlds and two-dimensional websites’, Proceedings of the 10th ACM Conference on Web Science, June 19–21, Boston, USA, pp.363-372. Available from: https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/3292522.3326038