US electronics retailer Circuit City has opened a prototype 3D online store.
The project is part of an experiment with IBM, Circuit City's systems supplier, to see how customers react to 3D virtual shops.
"Teaming with IBM in the virtual world is as much about sensing and learning from the community as it is about commerce. These immersive environments provide an interactive forum for testing and feedback," said Bill McCorey, senior vice president and chief information officer at Circuit City.
"Our ultimate goal is to understand the implications of virtual 3D worlds on multi-channel retailing, and to extend the connection we have with our customers to new spaces."
Instead of browsing through a web catalogue, consumers use avatars (3D virtual representation of themselves) to walk the aisles of the virtual Circuit City store and pick up and examine products.
Other immersive features include an area where customers can recreate their sitting room and figure out the optimal size television to purchase.
Or if a customer wants to learn how to use all the features of a new digital camera, they can immerse themselves in the 3D environment and see how to use the camera instead of reading a product manual.
The project with Circuit City is part of an IBM initiative to experiment with conducting business inside virtual worlds, and to solve business problems in a new way.
IBM is opening up areas in Second Life previously inaccessible to the general public. On these 'islands', which are spaces where people can build 3D objects and interact with others, IBM has been experimenting on extending virtual worlds for business.
Three key areas in business include: virtual commerce and work with clients to apply virtual worlds to business problems; driving new kinds of collaboration and education; and experimentation on pushing the limits with a broad community on what might be possible in virtual worlds.
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