Kinset is a new company that builds virtual 3D storefronts for online and multi-channel retailers. The storefronts can be viewed with a special browser that comes in a rather small download. One of the potential applications for the service is a virtual environment that can be used to test real-world store layouts, and this video shows how these storefronts are generated and populated with merchandise. If you download Kinset browser and go "in-world", you'll see their two test stores populated with Amazon's affiliate goodies. Their news release says Brookstone will have built a store on the platform, apparently by the end of the year. Here's a recent Boston Globe's write-up on the company.
The idea sounds a lot like what P&G has been doing in Britain for a while -- using VR technology to research consumer in-store behavior. One of the downsides, though, of Kinset and similar initiatives in Second Life and other words is that on-screen shopping is not an accurate approximation of the in-store experience.
Here are a few screenshots and impressions from my own exploratory shopping trip to Kinset (click images to zoom in). The service is in beta, so not everything might be ready for the prime time yet.
The shelves in the middle behind the cash register are populated with search results -- one of the nicer touches of the application; merchandise on the side shelves is persistent.
While the virtual shelves work better for books and music that look fairly realistic, the electronics are rendered not as 3D models but as flat product snapshots. This, of course, is the most immediate future of all such attempts at shopping virtualization until there is a cheap and fast way to create and import large quantities of 3D product images. Having the TVs actually display videos would also be nice but probably not feasible any time soon.
Pointing on an item produces its Amazon description (right). The shopping cart is not rendered through a traditional cart metaphor, though; it's a simple window (top center).
The idea has potential but I there's a lot to be done to bring it to the point where the effort of going into a 3D interface to shop starts paying off. It would be nice to be able to pick an object up and look at the back panel (if it's a TV), or have the shelf updated with merchandise similar to the item you are looking at, or stream music samples for CDs, or talk to a live or a bot assistant.
To make Kinset a useful planogramming tool, it would make sense to connect the software to traffic sensors and visualize shoppers' paths around the store.