Abstract: The author examines the impacts of immersion in a virtual shop and its impact on consumer behaviour. Intuitively, consumers should prefer a immersive virtual shop because of its aestheticism and more realistic and natural look. However, results from an exploratory study demonstrate thatconsumer reactions depend primarily on their buying style (experiential or utilitarian). The experientials, i.e. persons who consider shopping as a recreation, prefer shopping in a realistic virtual shop. In contrast, the utilitarians, i.e. persons who consider shopping as a task, dislike this kind of shop because of its lack of convenience. Therefore, for retailers, providing realistic immersiveexperience to experiential consumers is a very interesting way to differentiate from competitors.
Today the world is facing a new and revolutionary manner in which people shop through Interactive Home Shopping (I.H.S.). The term "interactivity" captures the quality of twoway communication between two parties, person as well as machine (Hoffman and Novak 1996). On the one hand, the shopper couldhave some control to modify environment content, have the freedom to navigate through the virtual shop, etc. (person-machine interactivity). On the other hand, the shopper could communicate with the retailer and with other customers (person-person interactivity). "Home" is taken in a broad sense here and means a shopping activity located somewhere else than in a store (Alba et al. 1997). Forinstance, based on this definition, shopping using a mobile phone is also considered as Home Shopping. For consumers, I.H.S. could offer benefits superior to other non-store channels (e.g. CD-Rom catalogue, television home shopping) because of its interactivity and superiority to traditional store channels in terms of its possibility to locate and compare product offerings (Alba et al. 1997). Incontrast, for retailers I.H.S. could be more a threat than an opportunity. Indeed, providing these benefits to consumers considerably intensifies competition between retailers. Therefore, creating an online competitive advantage is a crucial issue for them and immersive experience, a new manner to conceive I.H.S. This paper aims to examine how an immersive shopping environment creates productdifferentiation and added value for consumers. Interactive Home Shopping The diffusion of I.H.S. is facilitated by many factors such as advances in Internet technologies, ease of access (at home and/or at work), new consumer expectations (e.g., more
requirements on information quality and quantity, need to have a close relationship with the company). The following statistics show this fact. Effectively,Internet retail sites are quite promising. More than 80 percent of people have made a purchase online since they started using the Internet (Nielsen/Netratings & Harris Interactive eCommerce Pulse March 2001). Projections are also optimistic: Worldwide online revenue is anticipated to be multiplied by ten in 2004 (Forrester Research Inc. May 2001). Internet could be considered as a very attractivemarket for companies. Therefore, more and more companies are (or want to be) involved in online shopping and expect to succeed substantially. In management, the key driver for success is the building of a sustainable competitive advantage (Porter 1985), i.e. to acquire such characteristics that give to the company some superiority over its direct competitors (Kotler 1999). These could be of twotypes: either based on differentiation (i.e. to have unique elements from different from the competitors and valued by consumers) or based on cost domination (i.e. to have a lower unit cost than its competitors). It is not logical to always claim cost advantage in the online environment. Indeed, companies will enjoy some lower costs (Porter 2001) in some instances such as cheaper online promotion...