December 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Internet retailing in a 3D world

VirtualE has launched, a destination where consumers can download free software that creates a virtual shopping mall rendered with 3D-like visuals on their computers. Shoppers create personas and can buy from participating retailers.

Unlike going to the mall, shopping online is typically something consumers do alone. VirtualE Inc., however, is trying to recreate a mall experience online for consumers who want to shop with friends and family.

The company has launched, a destination where consumers can download free software that creates on most computers a virtual shopping mall rendered with 3D-like visuals. VirtualE designed the mall to render in actual 3D and tied the launch with the debut of the first 3D laptop computer, the Acer Aspire 5738DG.

After downloading the software, a consumer creates a persona that includes pertinent background information, including a wish list. That persona becomes an avatar that walks through the mall. The information is collected and displayed in a social network page, which can be viewed by other shoppers. And shoppers can initiate chats with one another.

Retailers appear just as they would in a bricks-and-mortar mall, with storefronts showcasing merchandise in the windows. “Salesbots” stand at the front of stores, telling shoppers about the retailer and the latest product information. A retailer can also have an employee with his own persona greet shoppers. VirtualE also can create a 3D-like version of a store for a retailer.

If a consumer wishes to purchase an item on display, she clicks on the product, which pops up a window containing the product page on the retailer’s e-commerce site. Entering the front door leads to the e-commerce site’s home page.

Retailers bid for placement in the mall and on billboards and kiosks in a bidding system similar to pay-per-click. They also can purchase display advertisements. Retailers with stores in the mall include Apple Inc., Best Buy Co., Foot Locker Inc., Prankplace, Preschoolians and ShopIrish. Special events, including seminars, concerts, guest appearances and contests, are held on the main stage in the mall atrium.

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