Keep the Social in Social Media: The Role of Social Interaction in Avatar-Based Virtual Shopping

Jang Ho Moon, Eunice Kim, Sejung Marina Choi and Yongjun Sung

One of the Internet's most notable trends over the past few years has been the rapid growth of social media. Social media has been defined as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content" (Kaplan and Haenlein 2010, p. 61). Social media applications have become increasingly diversified, ranging from Facebook to YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, Blogger, Digg, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Among the various social media platforms, social virtual worlds (SVWs) have received attention as growing virtual spaces that emulate the real world. An SVW refers to "a three dimensional (3D), Internet-based, immersive, massive multi-user virtual environment wherein participants interact through their virtual representatives (i.e., avatars) for various purposes, including business and educational endeavors" (Zhou et al. 2011, p. 261). Indeed, SVWs such as Second Life, Habbo, Club Penguin, and Stardoll have emerged as popular cyber social spheres. These SVWs are similar to the real world; a large number of users engage, via their avatars, in a variety of social activities, such as dating, going to nightclubs, taking educational courses, nurturing pets, attending music concerts, and shopping. By the first quarter of 2012, according to KZero (2012), approximately 1.9 billion people had registered on more than 300 SVWs around the world. Such a number, up from 789 million users on 150 SVWs in 2009, represents strong growth in both the number of users and SVWs.