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Getting a Second Life

The three-dimensional digital online world called Second Life may have initially attracted a Gen Y crowd, but as more retailers set up shop on the virtual landscape, member demographics are expanding. This is good news for Circuit City Stores, Richmond, Va., which is successfully using Second Life as its newest retail channel.

Circuit City, a specialty retailer of consumer electronics, home-office products, entertainment software and related services, operates more than 640 stores across the United States, as well as two Web sites, www.circuitcity.com and www.firedog.com. (There is also an international segment that sells private-label and brand-name consumer electronics products in Canada.) In a move to expand its multichannel strategy, the electronics company made its way onto Second Life last December.

Second Life members, who navigate the digital world’s experience as anime-style avatars, can enter a virtual Circuit City store, then browse and purchase merchandise no differently than they would at a physical store.

“We noticed that Second Life is an interactive testing ground that will let us learn more about the next-generation Web,” William E. McCorey Jr., senior VP/CIO, said at the recent ERI eXchange. He spoke during the keynote, “The Strategy for Outsourcing for Innovation and Change.”

With more than 8 million members navigating and spending money across the virtual world’s real estate (called islands), Circuit City saw an opportunity to spur its online sales. It was also an appealing opportunity as Second Life’s core-audience demographics continue to shift.

“While it is known for its appeal among Gen Yers, interest is growing,” he said. “We are seeing that approximately 60% of Second Life users are men, and the average age of a member is 42 years old. That is Circuit City’s sweet spot.”

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, a key partner in Circuit City’s business transformation and information technology upgrade initiative, helped the specialty retailer create its Second Life presence.

“Consumers can shop Second Life’s Circuit City the same as on our Web site, and even pick up orders at their local stores,” he said. “The positive feedback we have received is pushing us to open new Second Life stores as well.”

McCorey declined to reveal results, but he did say that the project is a direct correlation of the chain’s mission: “To deliver solutions that will propel growth and innovation.”