I have been studying the “entertainment” of shopping for five years now. At Electric Sheep, we focused on the virtual side, studying places like Second Life, Stardoll, and Polyvore, and advising large brands and ad agencies on the topic. We embedded ourselves within the vibrant Second Life design and fashion community. We designed and built many virtual entertainment experiences.
For the last year, I have been focused on “real world” shopping, focused on similar products: accessories, homeware, fashion (what can I say, I like beautiful things). For Aprizi, I have spoken to hundreds of shoppers about how they shop online and why. Once again, I have immersed myself into the world of indie designers, listening to their stories and challenges.
The two worlds have obvious differences but they also have a lot in common.
If we think about design-oriented virtual goods (rather than, say, a level 20 sword of kick-assery), we see that people buy them for self-expression, because they appreciate beauty, because they love the joy of the hunt, or because they want to give a gift with unique value and meaning.
Obviously, my point is that the motivations for the virtual are pretty much the same as in the real world. Virtual goods have become more mainstream, but many people still get puzzled as to “why people would spend real money on that?” But it is no weirder than that handbag, that pendant light, that iPad case you cannot live without.
P.S. don’t let the title throw you — I have never found virtual goods to be weird
P.P.S. an older post of mine on virtual good motivations