Incidental Memory and Navigation in Panoramic Virtual Reality for Electronic Commerce

Article excerpt

Recently much effort has been dedicated to designing and implementing World Wide Web sites for virtual shopping and e-commerce. Despite this effort, relatively little empirical work has been done to determine the effectiveness with which different site designs sell products. We report three experiments in which participants were asked to search for products in various experimental e-commerce sites. Across the experiments participants were asked to search in either QTVR (QuickTime Virtual Reality), hypertext, or pictorially rich hypertext environments; they were then tested for their ability to recall the products seen and to recognize product locations. The experiments demonstrated that when using QTVR (Experiments 1, 2, and 3) or pictorial environments (Experiment 2), participants retained more information about products that were incidental to their goals. In two of the experiments it was shown that participants navigated more efficiently when using a QTVR environment. The costs and benefits of using 3D vir tual environments for on-line shops are discussed. Actual or potential applications of this research include support for the development of e-commerce design guidelines.

INTRODUCTION

There is much interest in the issue of how to design computer applications to support the tasks of finding and selecting consumer products (Guttman, Moukas, & Maes, 1998). This interest has been driven by the perceived potential impact of on-line electronic commerce (e-commerce) on the consumer market. However, although much effort has been dedicated to designing and implementing new systems for representing shopping sites and products, relatively little empirical work has been aimed at determining the psychological consequences of these systems. Without a more comprehensive understanding of the properties of the representations used in e-commerce, little can be predicted about their effectiveness as media for selling products. An issue of particular interest concerns the consequences on navigation and memory of the use of virtual reality representations that model the structure of a physical commercial environment.

Current virtual reality sites are based on a range of technologies. Two that illustrate the diversity of these technologies are the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) and QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR). They use either polygon-rendered virtual environments (VRML) or networks of interlinked photo-panoramic scenes (QTVR). Both use a nonimmersive 2D display to give the user the visual impression of moving through a 3D space (cf., systems for stereopsis, Thimbleby, 1997). These technologies appear to offer a means of constructing compelling and easy-to-use e-commerce environments. Moreover, it might be argued that people will make more use of on-line commercial sites if these sites enable a style of interaction that builds on that experienced in real-world shops.

Wann and MonWilliams (1996) however, warned against assuming that virtual reality representations will be suitable for all tasks. Guttman et al. (1998) claimed that the best systems for e-commerce are those that make most use of the strength of computers as tools for retrieving sets of products that match specified criteria. Indeed, there are no magic bullets in human-computer interaction; representations need to be carefully selected to fit the particular task characteristics. In e-commerce a range of representations is emerging to support different aspects of the commercial process. Miles, Howes, and Davies (2000) reviewed a number of these representations. For example, systems have been designed to support auction-style negotiation of price and product comparison. There are also electronic sales assistants, which attempt to guide customers through the decision-making process. Sites based on virtual reality technologies form only a small proportion of the currently available sites.

For what reasons, then, might we believe that virtual reality representations could be beneficial for e-commerce? …