Designed to death

I had a favourite store in SL – it shall remain nameless, because I wish neither it, nor its proprietors any ill will, it’s simply the starting point for today’s rant!

This particular store was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures – well-crafted, clever designs of a quality you rarely come across on the Grid, and considering that quality, they were reasonably priced too. I’ll happily admit to frittering away a considerable amount of cash there, but with absolutely no regrets. The store itself wasn’t exactly small, but it was one of those places you could happily kill an hour or so in and still want to spend more time there. In many ways, it was a place to explore as well as somewhere to shop. Outside the store, was a sprawling similar – a display area for the buildings and constructions that you could buy instore, nicely spaced out and designed to give you a real sense of the size and scale of the goods on sale. You could explore inside and out, getting a real feel for each piece, before committing yourself to splashing the cash.

Then, something went wrong…

They redesigned the store. Big deal, you might think, so what? On the surface it sounds like a great idea: Move away completely from the traditional store format, and instead build a sim showcasing the products – an atmospheric, intriguing and immersive experience that draws you in and captures the imagination. Except, for me at least, it just doesn’t work, at all.

I visited shortly after the reopening, and after a good 15 minutes waiting for my surroundings to resolve themselves into something resembling scenery, after which I gave up and attempted to have a look around anyway. I lasted all of five minutes and about 50 paces, at which point my graphics card gave up even trying; everything ground to a halt, and I found myself booted unceremoniously back into RL.

Much the same happened on my next couple of visits until I finally managed to find a quiet moment when, albeit slowly, my surroundings decided to rez properly, but even then I was struggling. Don’t misunderstand me, the sim is beautiful and a huge amount of effort has been made to turn it into a showcase setting for the store’s wares. As a place to explore and spend time – if it wasn’t for the huge demands it makes on your graphics capabilities – it would be awesome, but as a place to shop, it fails dismally.

I tried shopping there, and believe me, I’m no slouch when it comes to shopping, but ended up frustrated, annoyed, irritated and thoroughly disenchanted with my experience. More to the point, from a commercial point of view, I went away empty handed and without having spent a single linden.

The trouble with departing from the traditional, time-honoured way of setting out a retail space, is that you run the risk of alienating customers if it doesn’t meet with their expectations. My local supermarket occasionally manages to do this when they change their longstanding layout because some smart Alec in marketing decides that herbs are no longer cooking essentials, but vegetables, or some idiot genius dictates that the ‘logical’ plcae for cream is no longer in the dairy section, but with chilled desserts – this results in me wandering fruitlessly (no pun intended) around the store in an unsuccessful hunt for Basil, Rosemary and whipped cream, wasting my time and inwardly cursing. No sale, and an unhappy customer. The same is true inworld – if I have to trek around the whole sim three times and I still can’t find the vendor I’m interested in, then I’m not going to go away a satisfied customer. Throw in the problems that naturally arise from a crowded parcel containing a large number of complex textures, and my shopping experience becomes a complete nightmare… Not exactly the best way to hold on to loyal customers.

What was once an enjoyable and worthwhile experience has become such a challenge that not only do I think twice before attempting it, but my spending has dwindled to nothing since the changes.

I’m not the only one who feels this way – I’ve seen a number of conversations in group chat bemoaning the new shopping experience and I’m pretty sure that my system is no worse in performance terms than many other shoppers.

Sometimes, bigger, edgier and more immersive isn’t necessarily better, especially if it means that the very people that you’re trying to impress and engage with are alienated by the experience you build for them. The saddest part of the whole thing for me is that this particular store’s creations are of such high quality in themselves they they really stand by their own merits without any need for any sort of additional support, but if I can’t even find what I looking for, despite tramping over a whole sim and suffering the woes of lag, crashing and unresolved textures, then I afraid – no matter how desirable the goods – you may well have lost a loyal customer.

s. x

I’m all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality
The Afghan Whigs – Lost In The Supermarket

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