XAY TOMSEN | 14 July 2016
Welcome to part 5 of Setting up a business in virtual worlds. In the previous tutorial, we looked at creating desire for your product. In Part 5, we look at choosing the right location for your virtual world store.
Before we get started though, there is one point that you need to get your head around. It may seem obvious to some, but after being a commercial landlord for many years, I'm certain most sellers don't understand.
That is, all you are renting is a shop space, nothing more.
Regardless of your location, it is not your landlord's job, or even within their ability, to make your shop a success - It's yours. All that a landlord is obliged to do is provide you a space to run your business, not advice or traffic.
If you go out of business, they won't. Their mall will still be there. They'll simply rent the shop to someone else.
As to advice, that's what this tutorial is about. Follow what I teach you, and the traffic - and the dollars - will follow.
Business Premises - Running a business in virtual worlds
It's all about location, or so the saying goes. That's true to some extent, but probably not the location you imagine. No doubt I'll get flamed for what I'm about to tell you but that's OK.
I've seen way too many good creators become completely disenchanted simply because they chose the wrong location for their store. I don't mind standing on a few mall-owners' toes to remedy that.
Don't get me wrong - I don't hate mall owners. Heck, I've been one. That said however, once I put some of my shops in my own malls - and then cleared my viewer cache - I realised just how awful the customer experience was. Fortunately that was years ago and I've learnt a lot since then. I did away with malls, and instead changed to shopping districts, and that's the best thing I ever did.
More on that in a minute. We'll dissect the mall thing in more detail because I know a few people are scratching their heads. Let's hark back a few modules to the topic of textures.
Imagine that you've done everything right with your textures, then you've set up your shop in a nice shiny mall. Question - Has every other business within a 128 metre radius of your shop devoted the same amount of time and effort to the task?
If not, then their textures will have to download onto your customer's viewer as well (assuming that your customer only has a 128 metre draw distance). Worse still, the textures of the neighbouring shops may take precedence over yours, making your business look like the laggy one when really it's actually the guy across the street. Or above you. Multi storey malls, where landlords are trying to suck every possible prim dollar out of the land, are a nightmare for lag.
That said, some virtual worlds - InWorldz and Digiworldz work this way at least - do prioritise the download sequence of textures based on your avatar's position and the direction in which you are facing. I can't speak for other grids.
Regardless though, that's still an unnecessary mess for a customer to endure, as well as a waste of bandwidth for users with metered plans.
Perhaps the most common argument for setting up shop in a mall, is walkby traffic. Honestly though, what a load of bollocks. Sure, some people just want to wander about a mall. They don't mind waiting a few minutes for the scene to rez, because a friend said the mall was pretty and it's a Sunday afternoon and they have nothing better to do.
Will they spend anything? Maybe. They're not really there to shop. Sure, those people do occasionally buy, but you can't build your business model around them.
The reality is that when people need to buy something, they use Search. And when they do, I doubt that most shoppers open the Search window and type in 'mall'. They type in 'shorts' or 'bikinis' or 'trees' or 'houses'. They find a business in the list that attracts their eye then teleport directly there. Their decision has nothing to do with whether the business is located in a mall or in a wheat field. Once they get there, if the shop has offerings that match their needs, they'll buy. If not, they might glance outside to see if something similar is next door. If still no luck, they'll open the Search window and try again.
It's a wornout myth that people flock to malls, wandering the streets like zombies in the vain hope that they'll find what they need. I mean, seriously, even mall owners know this - That's why they have teleport stations all over the place.
With all of that in mind, what is the advantage of setting up a business in a mall?
Similar to a mall, but not as texture-intensive, is the shopping district. I haven't seen many of these around in virtual worlds, but I wish that there were. Shopping districts were the concept I changed to after being turned off malls forever. One example that is quite prevalent though, is a marina, which is essentially a shopping district devoted to boats, sailing gear, and so forth.
At marinas, it is common to see competitors side by side, and all doing quite well despite their close proximity.
In front of and between their businesses are water spaces and often parklands and so on behind. Because of the open spaces - the lack of excessive textures - the lag is usually quite low and the businesses rez quickly.
Shopping districts work on a similar principle and I've proven their success over and over. One of the best of these was on Tamita Island on the InWorldz grid as per the adjacent photo.
An entire region, it had four shopping districts; one in each corner with plenty of parkland in between. It was a pleasure to walk around, and tenants were happy to pay a few dollars more for a well laid out sim.
Each district had a theme - mens fashion, ladies fashion, houses and furnishings, and a marina. Competing businesses were located near each other, not too closely, but near enough that their signs could be seen from the doorway of the shop next door. Interspersed throughout were paths and trees to break up the landscape and to reduce lag caused by neighbouring businesses. Open spaces between shops is the key.
As a result, when people searched for say, mens fashion, they would teleport to one of the businesses in that district. If they found what they were looking for, they would buy. If not, a quick glance outside would reveal a similar business close by, and another further on. This concept engages visitors. It's relevant to them and makes the shopping experience enjoyable. Happy visitors are always more likely to buy, and some will buy from more than one place.
With the advent of varregions, this concept is even easier to achieve nowadays. Larger regions enable landlords to use much more space for public land for visitors to enjoy while they stroll around the various shopping districts.
A prime example of this is my current main sim, a 6x6 varregion called Aratura on the Digiworldz grid.
So yes, shopping districts are a valid option. I guess what I'm suggesting you take from this concept, is to not be afraid of setting up shop near a competitor if your landlord has planned such a district. Sure, your competitor will win a sale or two from your prospective clients, but you will win the same from theirs.
Collectively, every business in the district has a greater chance of sales because each is attracting customers to that 'niche neighbourhood', some of whom may not have known you existed otherwise.
The last option, and this is particularly suited to businesses with large objects for sale such as houses, landscaping etc, is the standalone business.
Essentially, this is just a parcel of land on a region that allows commercial tenancies. Of course, there's no reason - and no disadvantage really - why you couldn't set up your swimwear shop as a standalone business in the middle of nowhere either. Do a bit of landscaping with deck chairs outside and make it a cheery place to hang out. Again, happy customers buy.
The thought of having a standalone business, with no other shops within cooee, might seem a bit daunting to some, but don't let it scare you. Any type of business can stand on its own and operate very effectively. It also creates a perception with visitors that your product is so superior to others of its kind, that people will come for miles to view your range and that you don't need the [mythical] comfort of walkby traffic.
One final piece of advice on the topic of location - Wherever you rent, make sure that you have the right to change everything in the About Land (or Parcel Properties) window. The Access tab doesn't matter as you don't want to set up ban lines for a shop anyway, but you should be able to change all the other tabs. Usually this process will entail you 'buying' the land (often for zero just to put the parcel in your name) and then paying a rent box.
If your landlord doesn't operate like this, or if you are required to use a certain group to rez objects rather than your own group, be suspicious. Something dodgy is going on, such as renting out space to someone else upstairs or in a skybox over your parcel, or they want to promote your business in a manner that implies they own it.
Whatever the case, such limits will restrict your ability to promote your business. I strongly suggest you find somewhere else.
A well planned mall or shopping district will generally have separate parcels that tenants buy then rent so that they can set their own parcel properties, and a separate 'welcome area' for the mall, where the landlord can promote the mall itself.
A proactive landlord will also promote his/her tenants in some small way, such as a directory board or teleport station near the mall's landing zone.
Xay Tomsen a.k.a. Andrew Thompson