Shopping in a brave new online world

[From Global Times (“Discover China, Discover the World”)]


Shopping in a brave new online world

Source: Global Times
December 30 2009
By Yin Yeping

Shopping is fun and cathartic, but for many it’s hard to find the time. Online shopping helps but at the same time can be dull and impersonal. XGO is about to change all that: their 3D business world, based on a business-to-customer (B2C) platform that combines virtual reality with Internet telecommunications, aims to provide the best of both worlds. The new online shopping experience will let customers negotiate with vendors’ avatars or even go shopping with friends across the globe.

The idea is, in part, to make online shopping more entertaining. Because it is built on the original structure of 2D e-commerce (sites like Ebay or Amazon), development has progressed more easily, according to Sun Xuyou the founder of Shanghai Yigou Network Technology Company, which owns XGO.

Sun has high hopes, telling Lifestyle that 3D virtual reality will replace a 2D experience no longer able to meet Chinese consumers’ increasing demands for a realistic online shopping.

The experience

When finalized, the XGO interface will allow users to “walk” through shopping streets and malls, enter stores to negotiate with vendors or chat with other customers about hot discounts down the street. Advertisements and billboards also announce sales. If something bothers you, just drop a line to the administrator by clicking the green mailbox at the crossroads to send a note. After you purchase clothing, XGO suggests additional items that might complement your purchase. You can even “try on” clothes by adjusting the size of your avatar to get an idea of whether or not the clothing suits your figure.

According to Sun, sellers need to pay a small rental fee, but beyond that XGO plans to create a free market in which vendors set their own prices, determine their own sales and choose whether or not to charge for delivery.

While originating in China, the platform will not be an exclusive privilege of domestic users, as foreign language versions will also be released. “We have set high standards for business selection in our shopping mall,” Sun said. Vendors “are either big national or international brands or small private brands with proof of significant business growth for up to three years.”

1st Virtual World

Another virtual shopping platform, 1st Virtual World, offers similar services to XGO and will be ready to launch in March 2010, after five years of construction. E-commerce company Hai Shang owns the online shopping system, while 3D game company Snail provides the technical support.

“I think people are rather fed up dealing with pictures and words, and they expect to have more realistic factors to observe in their experiences of online shopping,” Zhu Xuegang, training manager of 1st Virtual World told Lifestyle. “Inside a virtual shopping world, customers and salesmen are ideally able to freely interact with each other through typing or speaking.”

Test drive the experience

Although XGO will officially debut in February 2010, a demo has been available since September. “Ordinary users may try it after installing the client server software and registering a name on our website,” said Sun. “But they won’t be able to buy anything through that platform until the official launch day.”

“Thousands are already registered,” Sun said, and business cooperation agreements between XGO and brand name stores are nearly completed. Brands must be in the top 10 of their corresponding industries globally to be considered a priority. From digital products to fashion and home electronics, the variety of goods for sale covers almost every aspect of life.

“By the time we launch this platform, the number of businesses involved will reach a thousand,” said Sun, adding that they do not expect to stop there. Their goal is to expand virtual shopping into mobile phones and digital television applications.

Will it catch on?

Zhou Lingxiao, a white-collar worker for a joint venture company in Beijing has strong opinions about online shopping. “Due to the nature of my job, I rarely have time to shop for suitable clothes,” he said. “If there is a virtual shopping mall that allows you to have a similar experience just by sitting in your office, costing less time and money, then why not give it the benefit of the doubt?”

“To me, it just seems another new way of being lazy and not socializing,” said Li Xin, a student in Beijing University of Science and Technology, “Shopping is not just about buying things but also hanging around with friends outdoors, which is more than virtual life has to offer.” But he admits that this platform may be more convenient for busy people.

Foreign trade employee Jason Wu happens to be an ordinary user of 1st Virtual World, and while he likes the convenience and entertainment aspects of it, he thinks it has some serious shortcomings. “This platform definitely has to have more choice to offer,” he said. His example: only one type of men’s trousers is currently available there. But will it change how he shops? “I think I’ll prefer to use this for entertainment rather than shopping. Tangible clothing is always more appealing to me.”

XGO demos for download:

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