At American Apparel’s online store you can buy knee-high, horizontal striped socks, flex-fleece, zip hoodies, T-shirts or karate pants for babies. Insert your own commentary there. But once upon a time, American Apparel was the first major retailer to open a store on Second Life, the virtual world with pixilated personalities who sometimes pay real money for fake products. Go figure. Regardless, in Second Life, Topol from “Fiddler on the Roof,” could be a rich man, and Susan Boyle could dream a dream when life is worth living and God is forgiving. Oh wait – Susan Boyle doesn’t need a Second Life anymore.
As it turns out, Second Life isn’t necessarily all about alter egos living fantasy lives. It could be a place for testing out business ideas as well. Four years ago Starwood Hotels created Aloft, a hotel chain on Second Life. Real people could check it out anytime they wanted to, but only virtual people could check in – and they could perhaps leave as well. With the Aloft brand, Starwood, the company behind Westin, Sheraton and W hotels among others, was able to test how its concept would go over with its key demographic – youthful, stylish, tech-savvy types.
In its Second Life life, so to speak, the virtual Aloft brand generated much feedback about its layout, amenities and even paint colors in the lobby. At the same time, Starwood built a physical Aloft prototype in a warehouse where it tested out fabrics and architectural features. Such virtual prototyping is a way to test the market without spending a lot of money. If a feature is disliked it could be changed or omitted with less hassle. Now you can check in to real life Aloft Hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with its “custom amenities,” and “plug and play connectivity.” It is thought that you can check out anytime you want.
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