Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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Shrinking Shops/Sprawling Sims: Are Second Life Shops Getting Smaller as Stores Move Onto the Marketplace?

Armani1
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Recently I've been thinking about the in-world stores I visit, and how much smaller they seem to have become. Back when I started playing SL, the world seemed to be full of unnecessarily large stores and malls. When Armani came to Second Life they took this trend to an extreme, building a massive store with only a single room of items actually set for sale. These days massive stores are still around, but definitely in a minority even among "successful" brands... And often these behemoths are older brands, maintaining what's familiar. Beyond that, designers that can afford a sim will often design an entire shopping and exploration experience even while their own shop will only be a small segment of that space, cozy and crafted.

The massive, modern spaces that were entirely too common are in sharp decline, but why? I have a few theories.

One possible answer is the fact that the increased cost of owning land in SL has made sprawling shops far less sustainable, but Second Life land has never been terribly cheap, either. Large stores with spread-out stock were a status symbol, a way to showcase how much land you could afford... But I don't think that's changed. Owning your own sim is more or less the same thing, and although many store owners are choosing to rent rather than buy I don't think that effect has changed that much over time.

Beyond that, there was always a practical aspect to having a massive store. Before the SL Marketplace was an official extension of Second Life, XStreetSL and OnRez were our browser-based shopping choices, and although both were popular among fashionistas, neither really had the kind of universal acceptance that could be used to supplement an in-world presence. Designers who still wanted to sell their older work generally had to keep them in a space in their shop. Now, with the integration of the SL Marketplace into the Second Life experience as a whole, it's much easier to direct customers to your Marketplace storefront for your "extended" inventory while keeping only your newest and most popular releases in your in-world location.

And then of course there's the fact that smaller, cuter, more carefully curated spaces are more on-trend right now. Much like reading nooks build in under staircases and all those other little clever uses of space you see floating around on Tumblr and Pinterest, cozy, homey spaces are incredibly popular.

But maybe that's a stretch.

Ultimately it's hard to be sure why stores seem to be shrinking... And maybe it's all in my head. Maybe I'm falling victim to my own confirmation bias. What do you think? Have you noticed this shift over the years? have theories of your own? As always, feel free to share in the comments below!

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Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Timesand has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan andwith pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

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A.J.

When I started Second Life, way back when, the stored needed to be large because they were packed with people. It was nothing to have 40 avatars packed in a store to buy the good hair or the latest hottest skin. Remember going to buy an AO?

It's not like that anymore and I think something really cool about SL is vanishing. Shopping used to be a massive social event.

While I'm babbling, another thing that seems to be dying is the multiple sims of home-builders.
There are some amazing homes available now, but not as much variety. It seems like builders are shying away from building with a heavy land impact. I'm not going to say names, but I used to love some of those 1400 prim over-the-top works of pure artistry for our tiny little avis to live in. There was something really joyous about seeing rows of these rezzed inworld and something new always around the corner.

I think some areas of Second Life are suffering from a little too much practicality.

Pussycat Catnap

The mall as a concept doesn't work anymore.

But the specialty venue does. Either a strong brand, or a place to showcase products in theme. QUite often a sale can be generated not for what a person came for, but for what they really wanted but didn't know about until they saw it there in theme with the rest of the shop.

- That works best on a smaller, tightly controlled venue, that is backed up by rather than in competition with its marketplace side.

Marketplace is better for putting up all of your last week's goods, and cycling in a few eye catchers that stand well on their own.

But some very successful brands don't even use marketplace. Some of them have amazingly small stores. Take the "Lolas Tangos" for example. The store is not listed clearly in search, has no marketplace, and the location is tiny.
- But anyone who's been inworld for the last year knows the maker of those is making money hand over fist.
"She's too good / hip to be on marketplace". :)

(and is probably uploading a MP shop as I type this... But... even when that eventually happens, my point still stands.)

Inworld shopping isn't dead. Its just evolved.

A lot like how 'brick and mortar bookstores' are actually coming back now - a growing industry - because they have finally learned how to make their physicality a niche advantage while ALSO taking advantage of online sales.

You just won't see a megastore bookstore chain starting up again, let alone in the local mall. And the same is true in SL.

zzpearlbottom

Agree with Pussycat, most of the best skin, shoes and so on makes still don't use marketplace as their main selling spot!
And megastores takes much longer to rezz and time is more and more important, so small stores on landscaped but not to full spots will be easy to visit!

Ezra

I still buy from in-world stores most of the time rather than Marketplace, but I rarely search around in-world stores anymore.

I search on Marketplace and follow those "See item in-world" links, or however they're phrased. Often if I'm dropped at a landing point instead of the item, I don't look around too much so too big shops I'm more likely to give up on.

That's just observing my own post-marketplace behavior in retrospect. I never end up in a big store and have animosity towards it because its big. I like 'em and appreciate the care put into the builds. Just, Marketplace has shifted how I shop, and in-world stores just may be best to me as well-organized teleport points with demos first and foremost.

Tracy Redangel

@ A.J: My husband and I had one of those HUGE, heavy prim houses lol.
It took up 2800 prims furnished. It WAS a lot of fun lol. It had 3 floors, a working elevator, a HUGE indoor pool (on the 3rd floor!) and an enourmous home theater lol. It was a cool house, but ...just a prim & lag monster lol. We don't have it up anymore, but that's okay...we got a lot of enjoyment out of it. Now we just have it tucked away and enjoy the memories lol. I love switching homes...that's the beauty of SL, if you get bored you can change it. Some of the newer home builders do AMAZING things with less land impact. I love that this allows people to put more detail and little nuances into their homes.
As far as shopping, I actually much prefer shopping in-world. You know, you grab a friend, go try stuff on and see how it looks on each other before you buy. It's just fun. Marketplace is okay for some things, but I prefer the experience of shopping in-world. It's even better when those sims are beautiful so you can hang out, explore, take pics.

Ajax Manatiso

I'm noticing the exact opposite. I get most of my stuff at JungleWear and SFDesign and those two stores have been growing and growing into huge stores. I guess it's just a case of where you choose to go.

Arcadia Codesmith

Many of those old aircraft hangers didn't need space so much as they needed prim allowance. When advances in the tech allow you to do more with fewer prims, you don't need to own or rent a quarter-sim just to have enough prim count for basic retail, especially if Marketplace is serving as your bargain bin.

2103

Huge malls are of the past (2008), give me a single store in a skydome or on a sim where I can find the item or look around is fine with me. I'm not a big advocate of all the events around SL...but... I've been introduced to some nice stores that I didn't know of before the event, and that kind of marketing isn't going to happen to a marketplace only store.

The talk of MP only stores amuses me, you can never develop your brand just having a store on the MP. Like one of your readers said above, they find a item on the MP, then go to the in-world store.

Danaf

I do about 70/30 MP and inworld. With the arrival of mesh its easy to use the demo from MP then buy without leaving home.

Yes there's still some big stores around; I think they are better layed out than they used to be.

A lot now seem to use skyboxes which can be creatively designed to support the style of merchandise and i'm guessing at a cheaper cost.

Lots of retailers defy logic like their MP has no inworld link or they use their avi name instead of their store name and vice versa. I know that from trying to give the links in my blog!
And yes some don't have their latest wares listed on MP.

Pussycat Catnap

Like Ezra when I use MP I use it to find the item I go buy inworld. I rarely trust it off of MP, rational or not: I like to get my hands on a demo inworld from their store, or even if not a demo'd item, see it inworld around other items.

It instills a confidence in me that the place takes its products seriously if I can find an inworld venue.

But again as I said above: I don't expect a mall anymore. I expect a well made and highly themed shop.

Shopping should be a fun experience after all.

Archangel Mortenwold

It's basic economics, and Linden lab has no one to blame but itself.

First, the high cost of maintaining virtual land in Second Life prohibits all but those who have the money to spend from obtaining land space in which to rez in-world stores.

Second, the shift to the marketplace, including direct upload, negates the need to maintain even a small, cheap parcel on the mainland (which has always been the less desirable option for obvious reasons) to house magic boxes. All a content creator has to do these days is find a decent sandbox, and upload the finished product directly to the marketplace web site.

Private region ownership (the land barons) is about the only thing keeping SL afloat, and between the economy and LL's own policies, that number is dwindling as barons feel the pinch and leave.

If LL wants to reverse this decline, it MUST lower land costs and provide incentives to use in-world stores. Returning to pre-2008 prices would be a good start. If this doesn't happen, I doubt SL will be around a year from now.

Zaphod Kotobide

Like Ezra and others, I've taken to use the Marketplace as a search engine, to find what I'm interested in. If they link to an in-world store, I will almost always go in. I will make the final purchase on Marketplace however, because of the convenience of the delivery system. In-world search is still as clumsy and cumbersome as it ever was.

I have a small handful of homes for sale exclusively on Marketplace. I maintained a presence in world for over a year, and earlier this year decided to offload the expense. It has not affected sales at all. Occasionally I'm asked if I have models in-world, and I will make arrangements when I can to show the products, but that is very infrequent.

There are numerous reasons why folks are scaling back their in-world presence or eliminating it altogether in favor of Marketplace. The matters of convenience for the consumer have been discussed to some degree already. Marketplace has a solid hold now as the anchor of our consumer experience in Second Life.

The community has evolved into new personalities, and it isn't as broadly social as it once was.

I think the rest of the issues have to do with economics. Once upon a time, popular home builders like Tim Hoffman could afford to lease multiple sims from Linden Lab to showcase their products, and still run a profitable business. Some are still able to do this, but it is certainly not the same as it was 3-5 years ago.

Alpha Auer

Less people are buying. Simple as that. Which makes paying land fees prohibitive. I am one of those store owners who has a homestead on which there is a relatively small store. The rest of the sim is a playground, which the store is supposed to finance. And until a year or so ago I did in fact manage to pay the land fees from the store's earnings. This is no longer the case. Meaning that how much longer the sim (and the store on it) will be around is anybody's guess given that the sales no longer cover the tier. So, as a content creator, I will probably end up being present only on the marketplace also.

Shockwave Yareach

I went through my LMs the other day, and threw 3/4 out because those stores weren't there anymore. And the mall that was still there (Northstar) was 1/3 the former size.

Aliasi Stonebender

In Northstar's case, though, the sim owner is rebuilding it but habitually works at a glacial pace. (Heck, it took THIS long for him to get around to offering parcels for rent and he's been planning that for some time, I believe.)

Pussycat Catnap

"Second, the shift to the marketplace, including direct upload, negates the need to maintain even a small, cheap parcel on the mainland (which has always been the less desirable option for obvious reasons)"

What obvious reasons?

See my post above yours. The small parcel on the mainland is quite possibly the best place to put a store.

You put up a small highly themed visual experience for the shopper to enjoy your brand (and not your random collection of cool sculpty plants and plushy statues, but your branding) - and to catch eyes that have interest in one product line over to others that might go well together.

(Note that my shop is NOT well designed. But many others are.)

For this you actually want small and contained experiences. You can then push the bulk of your inventory off onto MP, and have a way inworld for people to examine some or all of it without large sprawling displays.

- I would think, 10 to 20 actual products, maybe even less for a highly branded store.

Then one or two vendors to click through that replicate MP complete with a demo-rezzer / demo-buyer (as appropriate).

The purpose of your shop should not be to recreate marketplace inworld, nor to compete with it. Nor should marketplace be there to compete with you inworld store.

Each should complement the other and fill what needs they do best.

Look to the real world - most retail stores have online and mail-order catalogs, and vice versa. Look at how a store lays itself out, and how that is different from a catalog.

The inworld presence is best served with the small boutique shop, and you'll find the top of high end shopping in SL does exactly this.

Pussycat Catnap

"I went through my LMs the other day, and threw 3/4 out because those stores weren't there anymore."

Every few months I wipe out my entire LMs and Notecards folders. I figure that if the place isn't on my mind, I don't need the info. I then use search when I start anew to find the place I know, and let the list fill out naturally.

For the homestead owner - a 512m parcel on mainland can hold any store, if products are split between there and MP properly. If you have an active business, that is a better way to do the business model.

If you're getting more than 512m of land, you should be doing so for enjoyment of it, and not weighing these two things against each other. Also, if sales are down, it just means your products are no longer current / hip / up-to date. Plenty of shops are doing very well - but who gets the slice of pie changes over time.

Skate Foss

I don't feel comfortable buying from a creator that only has a MarketPlace Store. I'll buy from a MP store if I know the inWorld store very well and it's just a matter of connivence. The trend I see (and I'm sure everyone else) is SL creators selling at Events. They're fun to go to and usually great for bargains. I checked one creators store I discovered at an SL event, which turned out to be a tiny corner in a skybox!
So I don't think MP is hurting Prim & Mortar stores, I think it's just the SL economy we are in. Virtual RealEstate is in bad shape.

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