February 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Sears hits home as it explores the virtues of virtual marketing

Sears Holdings Corp., in partnership with IBM Corp., last month moved further into the virtual world when it opened a prototype 3-D showroom called the “Sears Virtual Home” on Second Life. Second Life is a multi-player virtual world where people interact, play, do business and communicate online.

Sears Holdings Corp., in partnership with IBM Corp., last month moved further into the virtual world when it opened a prototype 3-D showroom called the “Sears Virtual Home” on Second Life. Second Life is a multi-player virtual world where people interact, play, do business and communicate online.

The prototype store allows consumers to experiment with changing the color of the cabinets and countertops in a virtual kitchen, explore 3-D versions of various home theater set-ups, and learn how to organize their garage by virtually customizing storage accessories, Sears says.

“Sears is committed to providing our customers with the best possible shopping experience and to looking for new and exciting ways to present our products and services,” says Paul Miller, senior vice president of direct commerce. “The Sears Virtual Home combines the best of virtual worlds and 3-D environments so customers can experience Sears’ products in a way that is closer to real life.”

The virtual showroom replicates in 3-D the custom design tools already available at Sears.com. Customers can order items from the Sears Virtual Home by connecting from the 3-D environment to Sears.com and choosing delivery to their homes or the option to pick up the items in a local Sears store.

Eventually, Sears hopes to enable customers to use avatars-3-D virtual representations of themselves-to replicate their exact room dimensions and experiment with redesigning their kitchen, garage or home theater by selecting appliances, tools and furniture that fit those blueprints. Consumers would be able to instantly change the colors, sizes and styles of refrigerators, ovens, countertops, cabinets, televisions and more, the retailer says.

Sears joins Circuit City Stores Inc. in setting up a virtual store on Second Life as part of IBM’s virtual worlds and 3-D Internet strategy. Circuit City’s virtual store-opened in December-replicates in three dimensions products available in Circuit City stores and on CircuitCity.com.

One feature of Circuit City’s virtual store will enable consumers to use avatars to stroll the aisles of the computer-generated store and pick up and examine products in a way that resembles real life. Customers can then order those items to be delivered to their homes, much as they order on the Internet.

An “immersive” feature that IBM and Circuit City are experimenting with includes an interactive home theater set-up, where customers can recreate their own home environment and determine the optimal size television to purchase based on room dimensions.

The companies also are researching the addition of features in customer service. For example, instead of customers calling in with a technical issue, they can go to the 3-D virtual environment and learn how to examine the product, where to find the product, and get it resolved.

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