The internet has come to stay; it came with it a gradual revolution which has improved the views of men about every aspect of human life and business processes. The use of avatars on the internet is one of the gradual changes that are happening to our world, they are animated computer characters that exhibit human like movements and behaviors. Efraim Turban et al (2008:867) Personalized information is now presented in interesting ways instead of looking at the internet as a communication media, we looked upon it as an information environment very similar to a biological environment Peter Small (1997) Advertisements in electronic commerce can now be done with the use of animated computer characters bringing a kind of naturalness to user experience online.
Internet users are now getting more addicted to the virtual experience being offered on most sites now. Facebook, Yahoo, Vivaty and more now use avatars to improve social networking and increase the euphoria felt by online users. Come to think of it, people derive so much pleasure by identifying with a winning character in a real world situation in a virtual world.
Daily advancements in technology has gone to the level where e-tailers like H&M, Sears, Speedo and adidas allow customers to purchase avaratised versions of their products for online displays. Thus, the benefits of virtual experience enhanced with avatars cannot be overemphasized, they include:-
Improved online sales
Some Companies have increased their sales exceedingly through the use of avatars, an example of this is Mattel, the maker of Barbie that extended her popularity beyond children and must have made increased profits through the increased online activity courtesy of avatars. Efraim Turban et al (2008)
Improved online shopping experience
The users of online shopping facilities get improved experiences; they now enjoy human interactions and real world feelings when shopping online. This replaces the soulless nature of internet transactions that was previously known.
Improved customer loyalty and better online support
Two companies targeting similar age groups might need to outdo each other in order to prove to customers that they have their interest at heart. This could mean that the best company with the use of avatars might retain more of its online customers while dragging more from the other company.
Simulations of real world experiences in electronic forms
Real life experiences are felt online when avatars react in corresponding emotions to different actions of the user depending on what is happening online at the time.
E-learning gets better
With avatars, e-learning becomes better, for example Noah the virtual instructor
Other benefits of using avatars include:
Improved online entertainment for Children
Improved relationships through online social networking
Branding of individuals and businesses
Removes the soulless nature of human-computer relationship
Advertising done with computer characters
Virtual products are highly promoted
Testing of numerous store designs is possible
The drawbacks of using avatars also includes the fact that they are
Sometimes annoying and intrusive to users
Just like so many appreciate the virtual experience of real world feelings online, there are cases when online customers get irritated because of the unusual nature of avatars that to them are not quite necessary.
Very expensive to create in 3D
The cost of the 3D technology involved in digitizing objects is presently enormous.
Installation of certain add-ons
Sometimes add-ons are needed to be installed before a computer can benefit from the interactive abilities of avatars. This ability is hindered unless the computer user activates the add-ons that are pre-requisite to the functionality of the avatars.
Age differences (Children could get fascinated while adults gets irritated with the avatars)
It should be expected that most children of below their teens will surely appreciate an avatarised shopping while the adult generation might find it uniteresting and annoying.
At the same time
Loading 3D effects might be cumbersome
The idea is not easy to sell to top brands
Some examples of avatars are
Les Power in the Flex your power show
Herman the bug
Noah as the virtual instructor
These avatars are not necessarily intelligent; they behave in the ways that have been preconfigured in them. My interactions with different avatars revealed that though some individuals might be indifferent to whether there is life on the internet or not. The use of avatars will continue to increase with more 3D technological advancements removing difficulties on a daily basis.