The Shopping Avatar

Broadly defined, an “avatar” is a virtual being that represents a user in a virtual environment. This encompasses not only complex beings created for use in online gaming but any visual representation of a user in an online community [1]. However, avatars are most popular in online gaming, since they represent successful feats of users during games: experience points, skills, badges and so on. Typically, in a game, an Avatar evolves from a pre defined standard representation into a unique and richly developed virtual „individual” that users relate to. This is expressed by users endowing their avatars with virtual items that can be earned or sometimes purchased.

We are currently in the process of implementing this principle on our qonnect platform. On qonnect, users control avatars that communicate with businesses. The avatar plays the role of the communicator with a business and the user decides what information the avatar shares with the business. This ensues a strong user privacy: instead of the user *it is the avatar on behalf of the user* that interacts with the business.

Viewed from a technical perspective, the avatar is a piece of software that is deployed at some business platform (in our case on the qonnect platform) and monitors the content that is shared by businesses. Based on the avatar’s interest settings, available content is filtered and sent back to the user or shared with the business. On a conceptual level, it can be compared to a blackboard where businesses share information and interested parties (avatars) look for content and then report back the finding to their “masters”, i.e., customers. At the same time, depending on the privacy settings of the avatar, the avatar can also share specific information with businesses: however, this is not put on the blackboard, but uses an additional (private) communication channel.

The indirection of the customer’s communication with the business opens interesting possibilities for customer journeys such as going shopping and taking the avatar of a partner/friend with you in your mobile app that is capable of hosting avatars. When at a venue, the avatar in the mobile app can filter available information (e.g., shops with specific offers) and in turn inform the customer.
This might be of particular appeal for (some, if not most) men: when they want to buy „something nice” for their spouse they typically have no idea about (1) what is nice and more importantly (2) the proper size of the nice things. By temporarily borrowing the shopping avatar of the spouse they can make sure that they will buy something nice and the proper size.

References
[1] Hello Avatar – https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/hello-avatar

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