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    • 2010 CRC PhD Student Conference Understanding the Influence of 3D Virtual Worlds on Perceptions of 2D E-commerce Websites Minh Q. Tran Centre for Research in Computing The Open University m.tran@open.ac.uk Supervisors Dr. Shailey Minocha Prof. Angus Laing Centre for Research in Computing Business School The Open University Loughborough University s.minocha@open.ac.uk a.w.laing@lboro.ac.uk Dr. Darren Langdridge Mr. Dave Roberts Department of Psychology Centre for Research in Computing The Open University The Open University d.langdridge@open.ac.uk d.roberts@open.ac.uk Department: Computing Status: Full-time Probation viva: Passed July 2009 Starting date: October 2008 Introduction The aim of our research is to understand consumers’ experiences in 3D virtual worlds (VWs) and how those experiences influence consumers' expectations of 2D e-commerce websites. As consumers become familiar with the affordances and capabilities of 3D VWs, do their expectations of 2D e- commerce websites change? The outcome of this research project will be an understanding of consumers’ experiences in 3D VWs and 2D e-commerce websites. Furthermore, design guidelines will be developed for e-commerce in 3D VWs and for the integration of 3D VWs with 2D e-commerce websites. 3D Virtual Worlds 3D VWs are online, persistent, multi-user environments where users interact through avatars [2]. Avatars are digital self-representations of users. Through avatars, users can walk in simulated physical spaces, talk to other avatars and interact with the environment. This opens up different possibilities for interaction; both in terms of human-computer interaction (HCI) and also business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions. Users may be able to browse through virtual markets, shop with their friends and interact in real-time with vendors [10]. These features suggest shopping in 3D VWs may be more immersive compared to shopping on websites [7]. E-commerce in Second Life Second Life (SL) is a 3D VW. SL does not cost any money to use. It is also an open-ended platform; users of SL are encouraged to create their own content and design their own activities. Users can sell any content (objects, scripts, animations) that they make. Content can also be bought from others. As a consequence, SL has developed its own virtual economy [6], including having virtual stores to shop from (Figure 1). Figure 1. Stores in Second Life. Page 104 of 125
    • 2010 CRC PhD Student Conference Currently, the economy in SL mainly involves virtual items, such as virtual clothes, avatar models, homes and land. However, there is potential for real business, involving real world items. Some companies, such as Coca-Cola and Adidas, have already used SL to advertise their products [12]. As the popularity of 3D VWs grows, more companies will likely make use of 3D VWs for their e- commerce beyond marketing and advertising. 3D VWs has the potential to become a platform for buying and selling real items, just as websites are today. However, successful implementation of e- commerce in 3D VWs will require an understanding of what influences the user experience [11]. Research Objectives The goal of this research is to investigate affordances of 3D VWs and their influence on consumer’s perceptions and expectations of 2D e-commerce websites. This understanding will be used to develop guidelines for designing positive e-commerce experiences in 3D VWs and 2D e-commerce websites. The research questions are: RQ1: What are consumers’ experiences in 3D VWs? RQ2: What are consumers’ perceptions and expectations of 2D e-commerce websites who have experience in VWs? RQ3: What are the differences in expectations and behaviours between consumers in 3D VWs and 2D e-commerce websites? Online Service Encounter Consumers’ experiences are based on what occurs during the service encounter. The service encounter refers to all interactions between a consumer and a service provider for the exchange of a product or provision of a service. According to the service encounter model, a full understanding of the experience involves looking at what happens before, during and after a purchase (Figure 1). Figure 2. Model of the service encounter [3]. Furthermore, consumers now have the option between different commerce channels (websites, high street, telephone, etc.). Therefore, consumers’ experiences are not based only on the performance of individual channels, but also how well the channels are integrated to provide a positive and seamless experience. This research focuses on two commerce channels in particular, 3D VWs and 2D websites. Affordances of 3D VWs 3D VWs support the service encounter in different ways compared to 2D websites. For example, having products rendered in 3D can improve product ‘diagnosticity’ [8]. Diagnosticity refers to how easily a consumer can judge a product to fit their needs. An interactive 3D model of products gives users more information about its form and function. Therefore, users may be able to make informed purchase decisions when shopping in VWs because they have a better idea of what the product is like. Another advantage is the multi-user and synchronous environment. VWs produce the sense ‘being there’, also referred to as ‘presence’ [13]. A sense of ‘being there’ with others is also possible because avatars are located in the same virtual space; users can ‘see’ each other. As a result, the e-commerce experience has a social dimension that is not experienced when shopping on websites. Affordances of 2D Websites Websites have their own advantages that VWs do not. Presently, websites can provide more information compared to VWs as they use text effectively [5]. The advantage of text is that it can describe many details about a product, such as specifications and warranties, which cannot be easily conveyed through images or 3D models. The web also has the advantage of being faster than 3D VWs because of its low bandwidth and CPU requirements. Page 105 of 125
    • 2010 CRC PhD Student Conference Methodology The methodology of this research project is empirical and qualitative. Three studies involving users are planned (Figure 3). The first two studies are based on in-depth interviews. The interviews will be conducted in SL. During the interviews, participants are encouraged to describe their own shopping experiences in detail and from their own subjective viewpoint. The interview technique is based on phenomenology [4]. Phenomenological interviews, and subsequent phenomenological analysis, allow the researcher to obtain the structure and content of experience. During the interviews, each participant is asked to describe the pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase interactions from a service encounter. The data consists of descriptions of shopping experiences, including behaviours, thoughts and feelings. For this project, data analysis includes both descriptive phenomenological analysis [4] and a general thematic analysis [1]. A descriptive phenomenological analysis of each interview produces use cases (or individually structured narratives). Thematic analysis produces a set of themes relating to affordances and user experience. The use cases and themes provide grounding to reason about design implications and design guidelines. Design guidelines will be validated through a third study. The guidelines will be evaluated by users who have experience creating content in 3D VWs and websites. Part of the validation study will involve making the guidelines usable for the intended audience of designers and marketers. Figure 3. Project methodology Preliminary Findings The first study is now complete. A list of themes based on affordances and use cases are being compiled. The aim is to provide a comprehensive list of affordances in 3D VWs for designers to think about when designing e-commerce systems. The long-term goal is to provide guidance on how to best use these affordances to create positive experiences. Some affordances identified so far are the ability to: • navigate through 3D environments facilitated by the spatial metaphor in a 3D VW • browse pre-arranged displays similar to a real-world store • interact with others in real-time as avatars • blend the 3D virtual world experience with 2D websites Through further analysis, a set of use qualities and their design implications will be derived. Use qualities relate to emotional aspects (sensations, feelings, meaning-making) [9]. For example, some use qualities that characterize the 3D virtual world experience are: Page 106 of 125
    • 2010 CRC PhD Student Conference • Disembodied presence: presence and interaction in VWs requires a combination of interaction metaphors, some from avatar-centred (or game-based) interactions and some from pointer-based (WIMP-desktop) interactions. • Touristy shopping: VWs are still a relatively new technology. Consumers are open to the idea of simply enjoying the sights and sounds through visiting new store. The element of discovery and wonder partly contributes to the positive feelings associated with the shopping experience. • Effortful: consumers perceive the shopping experience as requiring non-trivial effort. This may be due to the difficulty of finding stores or the time required to travel through the virtual world because of ‘lag’. The way that consumers describe shopping experience in 3D VWs suggests shopping is more difficult in VWs compared to shopping on websites. • Socially situated: consumers are not alone in VWs. The motivation and consequence of consumer’s actions are influenced by their social network and activity. For example, consumers often choose to buy products because they see someone else with the product. Or, they buy products so that they can share it with others in the virtual world. Further Work The second and third empirical studies will be completed within the next year. The final outcome will be design guidelines for usability of e-commerce in VWs and on websites. Additionally, the guidelines will address how to integrate 3D and 2D e-commerce environments for a positive and seamless consumer experience. The outcome of this research will benefit designers and marketers by providing guidance and a framework for designing positive e-commerce experiences. Consumers will also benefit by having e-commerce systems that meet their requirements and address their expectations. References 1. Braun, V. and Clarke, V. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology 3(2), 2006, 77–101. 2. Castronova, E. Synthetic Worlds - The Business and Culture of Online Games. University of Chicago Press, London, 2005. 3. Gabbott, M. and Hogg, G. Consumers and Services. Wiley UK, 1998. 4. Giorgi, A. P. and Giorgi, B. Phenomenological psychology. In Willig, C. and Rogers. W.S. eds. The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology. SAGE Ltd, London, 2008. 5. Goel, L. and Prokopec, S. If you build it will they come?—An empirical investigation of consumer perceptions and strategy in VWs. Electronic Commerce Research, 9(2), 115-134. 6. Hale, T. 2009 End of Year Second Life Economy Wrap up (including Q4 Economy in Detail). Retrieved March 10, 2010, from Second Life Official Blog: http://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2010/01/19/2009-end-of-year-second-life- economy-wrap-up-including-q4-economy-in-detail. 7. Hemp, P. Are You Ready for E-tailing 2.0? Harvard Business Review 84, 1028-29. 8. Jiang, Z. and Benbasat, I. Virtual Product Experience: Effects of Visual and Functional Control of Products on Perceived Diagnosticity and Flow in Electronic Shopping. Journal of Management Information Systems, 21(3), 111-147. 9. Löwgren, J. and Stolterman, E. Thoughtful Interaction Design. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004. 10. Maamar, Z. Commerce, E-Commerce, and M-Commerce: What Comes Next? Communications of the ACM 46, 12, 2003, 251-257. 11. Petre, M., Minocha, S. and Roberts, D. Usability Beyond the Website: an Empirically-Grounded E-commerce Evaluation Instrument for the Total Customer Experience. Behaviour and Information Technology, 25(2), 189-203. 12. Rymaszewski, M., Au, W. J., Ondrejka, C., Platel, R., Gorden, S. V., Cezanne, J., Batston- Cunningham, B., Krotoski, A., Trollop, C. and Rossignol, J. Second Life: The Official Guide (Second Ed.). Wiley Publishing Inc, Indiana, 2008. 13. Taylor, T. Living Digitally: Embodiment in VWs. In R. Schroeder, The Social Life of Avatars: Presence and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments. Springer-Verlag London Ltd., London, 2002, 40–62. Note: All studies involving participants has been approved by The Open University’s Human Participants and Materials Ethics Committee (HPMEC). The study protocol is consistent with guidelines from the British Psychological Association (http://www.bps.org.uk) and Second Life Community Standards (http://secondlife.com/corporate/cs.php). Page 107 of 125