The “New” Virtual Consumer: Exploring the Experiences of New Users

Lyle R Wetsch

Abstract


The development of virtual worlds began long before the invention of computers; the minds of children at play would create fantasy or virtual worlds in which to explore or interact. However, the development of the computer provided an opportunity for these
worlds to expand from within an individual’s mind to fixed video game environments and shared, interactive communities co-created by the users. The high growth of various virtual worlds globally that has occurred in recent years has prompted a number of Fortune 2000 companies to either enter the virtual space, or at least monitor the
development and potential of avatar-based marketing.
Although the current number of participants in virtual worlds is growing, in comparison to the overall consumer population, these numbers still represent just a very small percentage. To maximize the value that can be achieved and enhance the return on investment in a virtual world presence, organizations need to not only successfully
market to the existing members of the virtual world, but they also need to effectively recruit real world consumers into the virtual world and retain them through positive interactions.
Following the experiences of 40 undergraduate business students and 10 MBA graduate students as they enter the virtual world of Second Life for the first time, their 12 week journey is documented through weekly personal blog entries, online discussion groups, and exit interviews. The students’ comments and discussions provide insight into the mind of the new entrant to the virtual world. These insights guide suggestions for improving the experience of new virtual consumers in order to create long-term consumer relationships with an organization’s virtual presence.

Keywords


virtual consumption; new entrants; Second Life; virtual customer relationships

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The full website for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research can be found at: http://jvwresearch.org