Monday, 26 January 2009

The 3D virtual store

If you have a Sony PlayStation 3 games console you'll doubt be aware of, and probably tried, their free service 'PlayStation@Home' (P@H).

This free application and service on the PlayStation Network allows you access to a three-dimensional world which you can wander round, interact with objects, and communicate in real time with other PS/3 users who have also entered this world.

I think that the vivid detail and sense of presence, especially when viewed on an HD screen, is the most compelling 3D world I've yet seen. It's also easy to move around using the standard game controller.

It's made me think more about whether Tesco should have a 3D grocery superstore within a virtual world. Until I saw P@H, I had found 3D worlds such as the well-known Second Life rather flat and cartoon-like, and a Tesco presence would not be the immersive experience I was seeking.

Having a Tesco presence in the more graphically intense World of Warcraft would be fun if ever it were allowed. However, slaughtering dark wraiths and ghouls to gain clubcard points would probably not fit in with our brand (thank goodness someone else is accountable for business decisions round here!).

Far more interesting is the number of customers who ask me if we will provide a virtual 3D grocery superstore, whether in a virtual world or on our web site. I have chatted with many customers on the subject, so I could gain more understanding of what they are looking for.

For many, their point of view is:
  • The shopping experience would be more like bricks and mortar grocery shopping, so the move to online shopping would be easier to comprehend. The current online list-based product-search system is a very different experience and can be a learning curve.
  • Having other real customers in the virtual store (appearing as what the virtual world builders call 'avatars') would allow for social networking and cater for those who enjoy the social interaction of physical shopping.
  • 'Expert' avatars could be on hand to interact with, even if they were computer driven.
  • Shopping for groceries would be more fun.
However, I have to consider:
  • Can the customer's computer cope with the graphical and network broadband intensity of a 3D virtual store?
  • Grocery shopping online is all about speed and convenience. Would traversing a 3D store slow customers down? Is there a point about taking a long time to shop online that starts to compare, timewise, with jumping in the car and going to the shops?
  • Playstation@Home and Second Life are different and incompatible. So how many 3D stores do we build?!
  • If we allow customers to see each other in the virtual Tesco, could we end up with our customers having to barge past virtual dissenters demonstrating in the aisles, or being engaged in flirtatious conversation by someone when trying to get on with the shopping?! On the other hand, would you prefer the store to yourself - a cavernous Tesco Extra in which you wander through its great aisles alone?
Fortunately I take the view that we should act across multiple channels and, if customers are asking for it then we should at least trial something. We should try to provide for it on the hardware they have to hand.

My attitude is similar another great application online, BBC iPlayer. I can watch iPlayer on my PC, Mac, and Sony PlayStation/3 without technical considerations getting in the way (from my 'customer' perception) - it just works. Perfect - now let's try it with Tesco grocery.

It goes back to the foundation we are laying down - the Application Programming Interface (API) , now running in preview mode, which will allow us (and others) to create applications that will try out new ideas.

So, I'm very glad to say that one developer has contacted me to say that they are creating a 3D Tesco superstore using the API. When it's ready, I'll show it to you.


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  2. I went to one of your major suppliers for health and beauty products recently and saw their customer research lab.

    They use an immersive virtual reality room to test things like store and shelf layouts.

    It's unbelievable in terms of giving you an idea about the space. Your senses all tell you that you're moving around the space, even though you can see clearly it's a computer model.

    We didn't walk around the store, but instead, mostly flew. My guide had a magic wand controller that he used to fly us about.

    as a research tool it's amazing. Incredibly valuable. But to be honest, I couldn't wait to take the glasses off and look at the real space again as it was starting to make me feel a little ill!

    Would be interesting to test out the area as a means of really shopping. i.e. finding a whole bunch of stuff, with a selection of customers to see if it is in fact a good way to find things (particularly if you could dynamically reconfigure it to be the same layout as the local store that you're used to).

    Maybe we should ask them to let us have a play with it?!

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  4. I'm amazed companies are still spending such vast sums of money investing in technology that is so far removed from the true consumer experience of shopping.

    Based on our Video Game experience we have come up with a solution which allows brand owners or retailers for that matter to create ultra-realistic virtual retail environment to carry out Shopper Tests. To make this as close to reality, the space has to look realistic but crucially the navigation has to have a bearing on reality. With just two keys and a mouse anyone can now navigate around a store and pick up products from a shelf examining them at their leisure.

    While ActiSKU was created as a market research solution, retailers in France and the US have jumped on the idea, seeing that when developing concepts it would be great to have a 3D online virtual rendering of the store.

    The next step is clearly towards an e-commerce version where the customer can visit a personalised store, a store where he/she can not only pick products off the shelf but get his/her shopping delivered to their door.
    We're ready, are you?

  5. it's quite interesting, because I wrote a blog post about "3d virual game" on another blog and when I read your blog I was thinking, this blog is so similar, is it my old blog?
    btw, 3d virual store is profitable I believe, will make quite a lot of money when you properly run it

  6. I have just visited this blog, I can say that this blog is really informative for those who loves shopping any thing in the global village of the internet.


As this blog grows in readership - and because it carries the Tesco brand - I have had to become more careful about the sort of comments that are acceptable. The good news is that I'm a champion of free speech so please be as praising or as critical as you wish! The only comments I DON'T allow through are:

1. Comments which criticise an individual other than myself, or are critical of an organisation other than Tesco. This is simply because they cannot defend themselves so is unfair and possibly libellous. Comments about some aspect of Tesco being better/worse than another equivalent organisation are allowed as long as you start by saying "in my personal opinion.." or "I think that...". ... followed by a "...because.." and some reasoned argument.

2. Comments which are totally unrelated to the context of the original article. If I have written about a mobile app and you start complaining about the price of potatoes then your comment isn't going stay for long!

3. Advertising / web links / spam.

4. Insulting / obscene messages.

Ok, rules done - now it's your go: