Retail leverages its digital shelf space with sims and ad sales

Retail marketers are extending their web presence from simply having online shopping carts to adding entertainment to their brands and outside ad revenue to their baskets.

Tomorrow, U.S. retailer American Apparel is hosting a grand opening event of its latest location - a virtual store in the world of Second Life (secondlife.com) - with giveaways, prizes and a 15% discount on any real-life item bought in Second Life. A cross between MySpace and The Sims, Second Life is a 3-D, digital world where inhabitants create an avatar and live a second virtual life that now includes shopping at American Apparel and outfitting their avatars in the retailer's fashions.

Nick Barbuto, director of interactive solutions for Cossette Media in Toronto, says anything within these virtual communities, whether it's a virtual store set up by a site user or American Apparel actually setting up shop, gives a glimpse into the future potential for retail.

'It's not necessarily what they're doing in their stores, it's about leveraging new phenomena popping up on the Internet, and how can they leverage that from a sales perspective. Another great place for the future of retail will be the equivalent of Xbox 360's marketplace that will facilitate real and virtual transactions as well.'

Retail marketers are extending their web presence from simply having online shopping carts to adding entertainment to their brands and outside ad revenue to their baskets.

Tomorrow, U.S. retailer American Apparel is hosting a grand opening event of its latest location – a virtual store in the world of Second Life (secondlife.com) – with giveaways, prizes and a 15% discount on any real-life item bought in Second Life. A cross between MySpace and The Sims, Second Life is a 3-D, digital world where inhabitants create an avatar and live a second virtual life that now includes shopping at American Apparel and outfitting their avatars in the retailer’s fashions.

Nick Barbuto, director of interactive solutions for Cossette Media in Toronto, says anything within these virtual communities, whether it’s a virtual store set up by a site user or American Apparel actually setting up shop, gives a glimpse into the future potential for retail.

‘It’s not necessarily what they’re doing in their stores, it’s about leveraging new phenomena popping up on the Internet, and how can they leverage that from a sales perspective. Another great place for the future of retail will be the equivalent of Xbox 360′s marketplace that will facilitate real and virtual transactions as well.’

Some online efforts are not so cool. The Hub (schoolyourway.walmart.com) isn’t getting any gold stars, particularly from the U.S. trade press. Wal-Mart USA’s social networking site targeting kids and tweens – which features fashion, contests and tightly-controlled user-generated content – has been criticized for trying so hard to be cool that it’s definitely not. Overly scripted sounding teens enthusing about Wal-Mart product have been called laughable and not likely to impress the target group it’s trying to connect with.

Other major retailers have shared the burden of adding some sizzle and supplying detailed product info with their suppliers. And in the process, many have also realized the value of their prime Internet real estate by offering paid advertising opps to their suppliers.

U.S. retail giant The Home Depot is the latest to join the growing list of those selling ads on their websites, and advertisers on the homedepot.com site will get much more than a simple banner ad. The site, which attracts more than 2.5 billion page views annually, transports users who click on a supplier’s ad to the advertiser’s branded space, where they can choose to view interactive demos, streaming video and in-depth product content. Advertisers will also be able to buy ads in homedepot.com‘s various email newsletters that are sent to more than 6 million opt-in subscribers.

A spokesperson for The Home Depot Canada says the idea of paid ads on its site is being explored but doesn’t expect it to happen any time soon.

Other Canadian retailers have already entered the fray. Staples as well as Future Shop and Best Buy (both divisions of Best Buy Canada) are already well established in this practice with ads for brands including HP, Panasonic HDTV, Toshiba, Intel, Nikon and Gateway computers appearing on their web pages.

Michael DiGiovanni, online manager at ZenithOptimedia Toronto, has made these kinds of buys for HP Canada and says it’s very effective positioning. ‘In a certain respect, it’s almost like product placement. You’re creating awareness on a site where people can actually buy (your brand) immediately. That’s the reason people come to the site. You don’t go to futureshop.ca for any other reasons than for product research and to buy. (All brands) are going to be listed within the Future Shop site, but if you can pay additionally to have prominence, there’s a lot of value in that.’