For customers, web-based shopping can be lonely and impersonal—not like shopping in stores, where they can chat with salespeople, tell them more about what they're looking for, and get advice and assistance. Enter the avatar—an animated "person" who can be used as a selling agent online. More and more web-based retailers are using avatars. But are they effective? Do people respond to them?

Well, the somewhat surprising answer is: yes. One recent study showed that consumers had more satisfaction with an online retailer, more positive attitudes toward the product, and more favorable intentions to purchase it when the retailer used an avatar.

And, get this: avatar looks matter, too! The type of avatar was shown to influence the sale. Researchers found that:

  • Avatars made to appear "attractive" were most effective when the consumers' involvement in the purchase decision was low (ie, it was a trivial decision involving limited amounts of money).
  • Avatars made to appear as "experts" were most effective when the customers' involvement in the purchase decision was high (ie, it involved a higher amount of economic, social, psychological, or time risk).

... And you thought competition on the human sales team was tough.

The Po!nt: Avatars can sell just like you and me. Despite the initial strangeness of an online image "relating" to a customer, it is apparently working for a range of consumers.

Source: " The Influence of Avatars on Online Consumer Shopping Behavior," by Holzwarth, Martin; Janiszewski, Chris; Neumann, Marcus M. Journal of Marketing 2006.

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