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Circuit City Opening Virtual 3-D Store

12/15/2006 02:31:00 PM Eastern

Richmond, Va. – Circuit City will open a virtual store next week on Second Life, an Internet-based, 3-D virtual world developed three years ago by San Francisco’s Linden Lab.

The online store was created in collaboration with IBM, which is working with the CE specialty chain to develop ways to apply virtual worlds and 3-D environments to retail business models. The companies hope to solve business problems and create a “richer, more immersive” customer experience by adding virtual worlds and 3-D environments to Circuit City’s multi-channel retail strategy, the partners said.

The prototype Circuit City virtual store will be part of an IBM complex opening to the public next week on Second Life, and will replicate in 3-D products available in real Circuit City stores and at Circuitcity.com.

“Teaming with IBM in the virtual world is as much about sensing and learning from the community as it is about commerce,” said Bill McCorey, senior VP and chief information officer of Circuit City. “These immersive environments provide an interactive forum for testing and feedback as we focus on the next generation of customer service.

“Our ultimate goal,” McCorey said, “is to understand the implications of virtual 3-D worlds on multi-channel retailing and to extend the connection we have with our customers to new spaces.”

The site will enable consumers to shop the virtual store via avatars, or online representations of themselves, which can walk the aisles and pick up and examine merchandise. Items can then be ordered for home delivery or in-store pick-up, much as it is now at Circuitcity.com.

The virtual store will also feature an interactive home theater setup where customers can recreate their own home environment and have their avatars reposition furniture to determine the optimal size television to purchase based on room dimensions and layout. The interactive feature would also provide advice on where to place speakers and on other A/V components.

The companies are also researching the potential to use the interactive features to enhance customer service. For example, consumers could access 3-D product demonstrations rather than read through product manuals, and could determine how to find and fix problems themselves through virtual representations of their devices or systems.

Circuit City is also exploring how to extend its online forums -- where customers rate and review products they have purchased -- into the virtual world, which is “built around communities and provides a natural forum for people to connect and collaborate,” IBM said.

Circuit City will follow Dell onto Second Life, which established a virtual presence there in November.

Second Life is “inhabited” by over 2 million users from around the world and can be accessed at http://secondlife.com.

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